THURSDAY, April 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Waking up briefly during the night can do more than make you moody and tired in the morning.
Interrupted sleep can actually increase your chances of dying prematurely from heart disease or any other cause, and women appear to be more affected by these effects than men.
“The data highlights even more reasons why we need to examine people to see if they feel refreshed or not and how much sleep they are getting each night,” said Dr. Andrea Matsumura, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who reviewed the findings.
Nighttime awakenings are caused by noise, temperature, pain or pauses in breathing as a result of sleep apnea. They are brief and you often don’t notice what is going on, unless they are strong enough to wake you or your bed partner up. When these awakenings become frequent, however, they can affect your health.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed data from sleep monitors used by participants in three studies. In all, 8,000 men and women were followed for an average of six to 11 years.
Women who experienced more nighttime sleep disruptions for long periods of time had almost twice the risk of dying from heart disease and were also more likely to die early from all other causes, compared with women who slept more soundly, showed the study.
Men with more frequent nighttime sleep disruptions were about 25% more likely to die early from heart disease compared to men who slept better, the researchers found.
The triggers for waking up from sleep or the body’s response to it may differ between women and men, said study author Dominik Linz, associate professor of cardiology at the Medical Center at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.
“Women and men may have different compensatory mechanisms to deal with the damaging effects of arousal,” said Linz.
Exactly how – or even if – interrupted sleep leads to an increased risk of early death is not fully understood, and the new study was not designed to show cause and effect.
But the authors of an editorial that accompanied the findings have some theories.
“Many people with frequent awakenings and insufficient sleep have other risks of heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and lung disease,” said editorial editor Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart in New York City.
Anxiety and stress can also steal sleep and are known to have harmful health effects.
“During short or interrupted sleep, activation of the sympathetic nervous system and inflammation can play a more direct role,” said Fuster.
When activated, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of stress hormones that can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease over time.
Linz said the best way to improve sleep and reduce nighttime interruptions is to eliminate any arousal triggers.
Consider sound machines to filter out noise and make sure the temperature in your room is comfortable. If you are overweight or may have sleep apnea, treating these symptoms can help prevent episodes of “unconscious wakefulness,” said Linz.
Fuster offered some other strategies that can add years to your life: Reduce stress with relaxation techniques, like yoga, and ensure that all risks of heart disease are under control.
The new study had some limitations. It did not take into account the use of medications that can affect sleep. Monitoring occurred in just one night, while sleep monitoring readings tend to fluctuate from night to night. In addition, most participants were white and older, so the findings may not apply to different populations.
The study and editorial were published on April 20 in the European Heart Journal.
The new findings should serve as a wake-up call, said Matsumura, who is also a sleep medicine doctor at the Oregon Clinic in Portland.
“When people don’t feel well and wake up without energy, many don’t realize that they need to be evaluated by a sleep specialist,” she said.
Taking steps to improve sleep quality is also important, added Matsumura.
“Consider developing an evening routine that evokes calm and relaxation, which can include reading, journaling or meditation,” she suggested. “Limit noise and distractions by making your room quiet, dark and a little cool – and use the bed only for sleeping, not watching TV or reading.”
Limiting alcohol, caffeine and large meals before bed will also help you get a better night’s sleep, said Matsumura.