Poor Sleep is blamed for a wide range of health, work and social problems

Sleep is important for biological recovery and takes around a third of our time each and every day. Low quality sleep, particularly that interrupted by snoring and other sleep disorders, may be depriving people of as much as two years worth of sleep over their lifetime.
Woman lying in bed sleepless

Sleep experts agree that chronic poor sleep in general, and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in particular for anyone, but especially for older adults, can even be fatal.

A large-scale study (1) of over 160,000 people found that there was a clear association between sleep problems and the debilitating effects of a heart attack or stroke. A bad night’s sleep raises the risk of potentially fatal heart attacks and strokes and experts warn women are at higher risk because they are more prone to insomnia.

Difficulty getting off to sleep, staying asleep, and waking up not feeling refreshed increased the risks by 27 per cent, 11 per cent, and 18 per cent respectively. Women are at a slightly higher risk than men as they are more prone to insomnia because of differences in genetics, sex hormones and their reaction to stress.

Insomnia is a common problem regularly afflicting around one in every four adults. Sleep is therefore vital to all of us as restorative time and plays a significant role in healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels. It also gives the immune system and the cardiovascular system a rest and allows other organs to be restored.

The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology (1) and looked at the connection between insomnia symptoms and incidents or death from cardiovascular disease, including those from acute myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease and heart failure, or stroke, or a combination of issues.

However other factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure contribute significantly more to the overall risk of a heart attack or stroke than sleep problems do.

A spokesperson from The Sleep Council said: “This shows people must prioritise sleep as it’s as important as exercise and diet. People should have a sleep routine with regular bed-time and waking times and make sure they get as much fresh air and natural daylight as possible.”

Professor Valery Gafarov, of the World Health Organisation, said: “Sleep is not a trivial issue.”

Separate research has found that a sleep disorder might be as bad for triggering a heart attack or stroke as smoking or failing to exercise and that people who get less than seven hours are up to four times more likely to suffer a stroke and double their risk of a heart attack.

These research studies were extensively covered on BBC News (2) as well as the ITV show ‘This Morning’ and in both the Daily Express and other international newspapers including The Huffington Post.

The BBC found further research and stressed in its coverage that sleep loss had a serious effect on the school or working day, and that erratic and disruptive behaviour can be caused by even a single night’s loss of sleep. Lack of sleep does not only mean tired workers, says the study, but can also cause “unwanted” activity, which it links to lower levels of self-control.

In addition to this, tiredness brings personal danger to the individual, and to many others, when associated with either driving or handling machinery.

The study, published by the Rotterdam School of Management (2) says that such sleep-related disruption can cost billions in lost productivity.

Millions of people worldwide, including an estimated 80 million in the USA, suffer from some form of sleep problem, and nearly 60 per cent of them have a chronic sleep disorder that can harmfully affect their overall health and well-being. Two of the most common sleep disorders are insomnia and sleep apnoea and if you suffer from either then you should seek professional help and guidance.

John Redfern

Sources:    (1)    European Society of Cardiology Research Report
                           (2)  BBC News