The Link Between Insomnia and Heart Failure

Dr. Lee Surkin delves into the many links between insomnia and poor heart health.

Heart health

by Lee A. Surkin, MD, FACC, FCCP, FASNC, FAASM

Did you know that insomnia can lead to heart health complications? Unfortunately, the truth is that this sleep disorder can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure, although it remains unclear whether insomnia causes these cardiovascular health issues or is merely linked with them. To learn more, continue reading below.

The Link Between Insomnia and Heart Failure Risk

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder affecting 10% to 15% of people worldwide characterized by difficulty falling, difficulty staying asleep, and/or waking up too early. A published study revealed that 44% of people with heart conditions experience insomnia frequently, also making it a common heart failure symptom (Bhaskar et al., 2016).

Up to 50% of heart failure patients suffer from obstructive sleep apnea…

In addition, those who have all three insomnia symptoms, are at significantly higher risk, by more than three-fold, of heart failure. And, when it comes to the insomnia and heart failure connection, researchers came up with two theories: an underlying biological cause and the stress insomnia puts on the body takes a toll on heart health.

The Impact of Insomnia on Cardiovascular Health

Insomnia increases the risk of heart disease and stroke in people who suffer from these conditions (all considered precursors to heart failure):

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) – Blood pressure typically decreases approximately 10-20% during sleep (nocturnal dipping). So, if you cannot sleep, your blood pressure remains higher for longer than usual.
  • Diabetes (Type 2) – This chronic disease impacts how glucose (sugar) is As a result, blood vessels get damaged.
  • Obesity – Weight gain is closely connected to lack of total and quality sleep since it affects the part of the brain responsible for controlling hunger and satiety.

Common Sleep Disorders in Heart Patients

There are several sleep disorders common in heart patients that negatively affect sleep and can aggravate existing insomnia and sleep deprivation. These include:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Up to 50% of heart failure patients suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep (Khattak et al., 2018). This condition can result in many sudden arousals per night, leading to chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea typically worsens heart failure and worsened heart failure worsens sleep apnea. Therefore, it’s a vicious cycle. Treating sleep apnea has proven to improve sleep, quality of life, mood, blood pressure, cardiac ejection fraction, irregular heartbeats, and vascular parameters.

Nocturnal Movement Disorders

When compared to the general population, heart failure patients are at a higher risk of developing two types of nocturnal movement disorders that negatively affect sleep. These include:

  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) – This sleep disorder is characterized by an urge to move the legs that usually occurs in the evenings typically described as a burning, twitching, and/or “creepy crawling” sensation which can be relieved by moving the legs. As a consequence, these movements make falling asleep difficult.
  • Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS) – Similar to RLS, this disorder is also characterized by involuntary leg movements. However, it is different from RLS because these movements occur during sleep so the person may not even know they have the disorder. Still, it can disrupt sleep and lead to sleep deprivation. Statistically, 80% of individuals with RLS also have PLMS.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line, although not clear enough, there’s a strong link between insomnia and heart health. Hence, you need to improve your sleep to reduce your risk of heart failure, heart disease, and stroke. To do so, you have to take your sleep routine seriously and improve your sleep hygiene, but eventually, you will enjoy all the benefits that come with getting enough quality sleep.

Dr. Surkin provides more information on the cardiac consequences of poor sleep in his article: “Addressing Poor Sleep May Help Heart Health.” Click here to read more,

Heart healthLee A. Surkin, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Nexus Dental Systems. A private practitioner in cardiology, sleep medicine, and obesity medicine, he is one of a small group of physicians to be triple board certified in cardiology, sleep medicine, and nuclear cardiology. In 2009, he created Carolina Sleep – the only dedicated sleep medicine practice in eastern NC. Dr. Surkin has created a cardiovascular and sleep healthcare model that includes a multi-faceted diagnostic and treatment approach that is enhanced by a network of relationships with physicians, dentists, respiratory therapists, sleep technologists, and public officials who recognize the important role that sleep medicine has in our daily life. In 2012, Dr. Surkin founded the American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine which is a not-for-profit academic organization dedicated to educating healthcare providers, supporting research, and increasing public awareness of the convergence between cardiovascular disease and sleep disorders. In 2014, Dr. Surkin created a new multi-specialty practice called Carolina Clinic for Health and Wellness which combines his specialties with primary care, gynecology, behavioral health and a medical spa. Dr. Surkin is married with three daughters and a golden retriever and resides in Greenville, NC.

  1. Bhaskar, S., Hemavathy, D., & Prasad, S. (2016). Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities. Journal of family medicine and primary care.
  2. Khattak, H. K., Hayat, F., Pamboukian, S. V., Hahn, H. S., Schwartz, B. P., & Stein, P. K. (2018, June 1). Obstructive sleep apnea in heart failure: Review of prevalence, treatment with continuous positive airway pressure, and prognosis. Texas Heart Institute journal.,conditions)%2C%20AHI%20cutoff%2C%20and

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