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Constant sleep disruptions can increase your risk of death, study finds

Experts say women tend to be more affected by inconsistent sleep

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Photo (c) jhorrocks - Getty Images
Following a healthy sleeping routine has been linked with several health benefits for consumers. However, the opposite is also true: inconsistent sleep can increase risks for several health conditions.  

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology found that regular sleep disruptions may be associated with an increased risk of early death, and this poses a bigger threat for women than for men. While being awake in the middle night is fairly common, the team says the risk of early death rises when consumers are consistently awake for long stretches of time and several times throughout the night. 

The risks associated with disrupted sleep

The researchers analyzed data from more than 8,000 participants enrolled in three different studies: the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Sleep Study, the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures, and the Sleep Heart Health Study. All of the participants wore sleep monitors during the study, and the team followed up with them over the course of several years. 

The researchers were primarily interested in how many times the participants woke up throughout the night and how long they stayed awake; they dubbed this trend “arousal burden.” Women involved in the two studies had higher arousal burdens than any of the men enrolled in the studies, and this was linked with a higher risk of early death. 

When men’s arousal burden was approaching 9% of their total night’s sleep time, the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) was 1.3 times higher; comparatively, when women’s arousal burden was around 7% of their total night’s sleep, the risk of cardiovascular-related death was doubled. There were similar risks linked to all-cause mortality among men and women. 

The researchers found that both body mass index (BMI) and age can heighten consumers’ arousal burden. The team encourages adopting a consistent sleep routine to ensure optimal health. 

“For me as a physician, a high arousal burden helps to identify patients who may be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease,” said researcher Dr. Dominik Linz. “We need to advise our patients to take care of their sleep and practice good sleep ‘hygiene.’ Measures to minimize noise pollution during the night, lose weight, and treat sleep apnea could also help to reduce arousal burden.” 

The team hopes that more work is done in this area to see how physicians can best go about treating patients and promoting long-term health benefits. 

“Even though many knowledge gaps on the relationship between sleep and CVD remain to be studied in the coming years, this study provides solid evidence supporting the importance of sleep quality for a better CV health,” the researchers wrote. “What remains to be determined is whether an intervention aiming at improving sleep quality is able to reduce the incidence of CV events and mortality. While awaiting these trials, we wish you sweet dreams.” 

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