Insomnia can lead to this negative health double whammy

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As if laying awake half the night isn’t bad enough, new research finds that insomnia is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Insomnia, which affects 30% of the population, is often misunderstood. It’s often blamed on everything from work stress to preexisting health problems, which may be true for some people – but earlier this year, studies found that it is linked to your genetics.

It’s that very genetic predisposition to insomnia that’s behind the increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The findings

Previous research already made the connection between insomnia and increased stroke and heart disease risk, according to the study’s lead author Susanna Larsson, a professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. However, that research had not been able to decide if insomnia was the cause of these health problems, or just associated with them.

With the new study, Larsson and her research team used data from 1.3 million people. Some of those people had had heart problems or a stroke, and others hadn’t.  Larsson and a colleague used Mendelian randomization, a technique that uses genetic variants known to be connected with a potential risk factor – in this case, insomnia – to reduce bias in the results.

The results of their work suggest that a genetic predisposition to insomnia is what’s needed to link insomnia to a higher risk of developing heart disease, heart failure, and ischemic stroke.

“It’s important to identify the underlying reason for insomnia and treat it,” Larsson said in a release. “Sleep is a behavior that can be changed by new habits and stress management.”

The researchers acknowledged that their study had an imperfection: They couldn’t decide if the people they studied actually suffered from insomnia – only if they were (or weren’t) genetically linked to it.

The results were published in the journal Circulation.