Insomnia and Heart Health: What's the Connection?
Last updated: November 2023
If you have insomnia, you know poor-quality sleep or lack of sleep can make it harder to function the next day. But did you know that long-term (chronic) insomnia can affect your heart?1
Cardiovascular disease is a large group of conditions of the heart and blood vessels. Many people call any of these conditions "heart disease." Common examples of heart disease include:1
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Hardening of the arteries
Insomnia is a condition in which people have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good-quality, restful sleep.2
Doctors have known for years that insomnia and heart disease are linked. Research is now focusing attention on how serious the consequences of insomnia can be.2
One large study found that people with insomnia were 69 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those without insomnia. This risk was greatest for people who sleep 5 hours or less a night and in women with insomnia.2
The links between heart health and sleep
About 1 in 3 people worldwide have insomnia, but more than 4 in 10 people with heart disease do. What's more, roughly 4 in 10 people with heart disease have sleep apnea, which can cause insomnia too.3
Many studies have found insomnia significantly increases the risk of:3
- Heart attack
- Death due to heart disease
- Heart disease episodes
- Death due to all causes
Insomnia is also linked to type 2 diabetes, being overweight, asthma, and depression, which are all linked to a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. In fact, people with both diabetes and insomnia are twice as likely to have a heart attack.1,2
Insomnia appears to have the greatest impact on heart health if the person gets poor sleep and sleeps less than 5 to 6 hours a night for 16 to 30 nights per month. Experiencing short sleep or poor sleep alone was not linked to heart disease or death.2,4
Addressing insomnia before it hurts your heart
Since insomnia may contribute to serious heart conditions, what can you do to improve your sleep?
First, it is important to make good sleep a priority rather than accepting you are a poor sleeper or are too busy to sleep. Over time, insomnia can contribute to unhealthy habits that are bad for your heart, such as making unhealthy food choices, feeling unmotivated to exercise, and feeling more stress.1,2
Here are some steps you can take to get better sleep and more sleep:1,2
- Go to bed and get up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. Having a sleep schedule trains your body what to do at those times.
- Expose yourself to natural light in the morning and midday.
- Exercise every day, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
- Turn off lights, especially from screens, at least an hour before bedtime. Some people find a blue light filter on their phone or computer helps them wind down.
- Do something calming to wind down before bed.
- Do not eat or drink alcohol within a few hours of bedtime. Eating foods high in sugar and fat late in the day may make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Make your bedroom as dark, quiet, and comfortable as possible.
If you have tried these steps and still have trouble falling asleep or sleep less than 5 hours, talk with your doctor.2
Do you manage heart disease along with your insomnia?
Do you experience painsomnia?