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November 17, 2012

Insomnia doubles risk of heart attack, stroke, research shows

NEW YORK — Sleep difficulties, a problem for as many as 70 million Americans, can double one's risk of heart attack or stroke, according to a study.

The study by researchers in Taiwan found that people with insomnia were twice as likely to have heart attacks or strokes than those without the sleep disorder during the trial's four- year period. The research was presented Sunday at the American Heart Association meeting in Los Angeles.

The findings add to previous research showing not enough sleep can contribute to high blood pressure and waking too early may raise heart risks. Sleep should be part of the patient- doctor discussion during checkups, said Kristen Knutson, a sleep researcher who wasn't part of the study.

"A lot of people and many physicians don't ask about sleep," said Knutson, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago, in a telephone interview. "The first thing is to talk to their patients and also for the patients to talk to their doctors about their sleep and discussing sleep as one of the many important health behaviors like diet and exercise."

No one is certain how lack of sleep contributes to heart attacks and strokes, she said. It may be that the body's "fight or flight" system is more active with not enough sleep, which can increase heart rate and over time increase blood pressure and raise the risk for cardiovascular disease, she said.

Chronic insomnia affects about 1 in 5 adults, and is also a risk factor for depression, substance abuse, and impaired waking function, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers in the study looked at more than 43,000 people ages 45 or older who were part of the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database, including 10,871 who were diagnosed with insomnia.

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