Poor sleep may increase risk for irregular heart rhythms

Poor sleep atrial fibrillation

Disruptions in sleep may be raising your risks of an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (AF), according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016.

Obstructive sleep apnea, sleep interrupted by pauses in breathing, is a known risk for atrial fibrillation – an irregular heartbeat that can lead to strokes, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

But whether there’s a relationship between disrupted sleep and atrial fibrillation even when there’s no sleep apnea is unclear.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco examined three sources of data – each using a different approach – to isolate and confirm the effects of poor sleep on atrial fibrillation.

Their analyses of these studies showed that:

  • disrupted sleep, including insomnia, may be independently associated with atrial fibrillation;
  • people who reported frequent night-time awakening had about a 26 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation compared to those who didn’t wake up a lot; and
  • people diagnosed with insomnia had a 29 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation compared to those without insomnia.

Insomnia meant having trouble falling asleep, not getting enough sleep, or having poor sleep.

“The idea that these three studies gave us consistent results was exciting,” said lead study author Matt Christensen, currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Past research has shown a link between poor sleep among people who already had atrial fibrillation. But this study focused on people whose pre-existing sleep disruptions were associated with developing AF later in life.

The data sources included the Health eHeart Study – an internet-based cross-sectional study of more than 4,600 people; the Cardiovascular Health Study – an 11-year longitudinal study of just over 5,700 people, of which almost 1,600 (28 percent) developed atrial fibrillation; and the California Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, a hospital-based database spanning five years and covering almost 14 million patients.

In all three studies, researchers adjusted for the effects of obstructive sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation risk factors that might also be related to sleep. Some of those factors were age, sex, race, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure and smoking. 

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News source: American Heart Association.
Authors: Matthew Christensen, B.S.; Shalini Dixit, M.D.; Thomas Dewland, M.D.; Isaac Whitman, M.D.; Gregory Nah, M.A.; Eric Vittinghoff, Ph.D.; Kenneth Mukamal, M.D., M.P.H.; Susan Redline, M.D., M.P.H.; John Robbins, M.D., M.H.S.; Anne Newman, M.D., M.P.H.; Sanjay Patel, M.D.; Jared Magnani, M.D.; Bruce Psaty, M.D., Ph.D.; Jeffrey Olgin, M.D.; Mark Pletcher, M.D., M.P.H.; and Susan Heckbert, M.D., Ph.D.
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