Having disturbed sleep could increase your chances of having an irregular heartbeat, according to a study.
Preliminary research presented at a conference in the US suggests that sleep apnoea, insomnia and frequent waking are all risk factors.
Previous research has shown that a link exists between poor sleep and people who already have a particular type of irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation. However, researchers at the University of California say it’s been unclear whether poor sleep can cause the condition.
One important reason why people have poor sleep is called obstructive sleep apnoea. This condition means that people experience prolonged pauses in their breathing when they are asleep. It’s already been established that sleep apnoea can cause strokes, heart failure and other heart-related complications. People are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnoea if, among other risk factors, they are male, overweight, smoke and drink alcohol.
However, frequent waking or insomnia, in which a person has trouble falling asleep in the first place, are also responsible for poor quality sleep.
The researchers looked at data from 3 different US studies that examined the relationship between sleep and irregular heartbeat. They found that:
- Disrupted sleep, including insomnia, may be a risk factor for an irregular heartbeat
- People who say they wake up frequently had about a 26% higher risk of developing an irregular heartbeat than those who didn’t wake up a lot
- People diagnosed with insomnia had a 29% higher risk of developing an irregular heartbeat than those without insomnia.
“The idea that these three studies gave us consistent results was exciting,” says study author Matt Christensen from the University of Michigan.
In a separate analysis, the same researchers reviewed data from another health study to shed light on the effect of disturbed sleep during different sleep phases on the risk of developing atrial fibrillation in people who did not have sleep apnoea.
The analysis involving 1,131 people, with an average age of 77, found that those who had less rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep than other sleep phases had a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
REM sleep is characterised by having rapid eye movements and muscle paralysis, and is when dreams occur.
The researchers say sleep may have an important impact on blood pressure and heart rate, or frequent waking could put extra stress on the chambers in the heart.
The results from both studies are being presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016. The findings should be treated with caution as they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal in which suitable qualified experts have been able to assess the results.