Poor sleep is associated with up to seven years’ worth of increased heart disease risk and even premature death, according to a study.
The research, published in the journal BMC Medicine, analysed data from more than 300,000 middle-aged adults from the UK Biobank.
Researchers from the University of Sydney in collaboration with Southern Denmark University found that different disturbances to sleep are associated with different durations of compromised cardiovascular health later in life compared to healthy sleepers.
In particular, men with clinical sleep-related breathing disorders lost nearly seven years of cardiovascular disease-free life compared to those without these conditions, and women lost over seven years, they said.
The study found that even general poor sleep, such as insufficient sleep, insomnia, snoring, going to bed late, and daytime sleepiness is associated with a loss of around two years of normal heart health in men and women.
“Our research shows that, over time, regular poor sleep can lead to significantly compromised cardiovascular health in middle and old age,” said Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney, and senior author of the study.
“Sleep apnea is well known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, but these findings are a wake-up call that poor sleep in general can pose significant risk to heart health,” Stamatakis said in a statement.
The team came up with three sleep categories: poor, intermediate, and healthy at age 40, and compared this with their overall cardiovascular disease-free health expectancy.
By combining the study participants’ self-reported data with clinical data from their doctors in the two years preceding the study, the researchers were able to compare health outcomes for self-reported sleep patterns and clinically diagnosed conditions such as sleep-related breathing disorders.
The team categorised participants as poor, intermediate, and healthy sleepers at age 40, and compared their health outcomes at old age.
Women with poor sleep were likely to experience two years more of compromised cardiovascular health compared to healthy sleepers, while men experienced more than two years. Intermediate sleepers lost almost one year of heart disease-free life among women, and men lost slightly more.
This means that snoring and trouble falling asleep or staying asleep can be a warning sign of potential health issues in the future.
“While the average life expectancy of the UK study participants is around 80 years, people with clinically diagnosed sleep-related breathing disorders like sleep apnea lost over seven years of cardiovascular-disease free life,” said the study’s lead author Bo-Huei Huang, an epidemiologist recently graduating from the University of Sydney.