According to a new study by researchers from the University of Adelaide and Maastricht medical centre, disrupted sleep could contribute to a higher risk of death, primarily among women, who are almost twice as likely to suffer from serious heart problems when experiencing regularly disrupted sleep.
The researchers examined the impact of ‘unconscious wakefulness’ on a person’s risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, as well as ‘arousal burden’ in association with long-term cardiovascular problems and lower morality in women and to a lesser extent in men.
Sleep arousal is a normal part of sleep, but if it accounts for a larger portion of the sleep cycle, it can become a problem. Professor Dominik Linz noted, ‘A common trigger for nocturnal arousals is obstructive sleep apnoea when breathing stops and the arousal system ensures the activation of our body to change our sleep position and to reopen the upper airway.’
‘Another cause of arousals can be noise pollution during the night by, for example, night-time aircraft noise. Depending on the strength of the arousal, a person might become consciously aware of the environment, but often that is not the case.’, he added.
He concluded, ‘Typically, people will feel exhausted and tired in the morning because of their sleep fragmentation but will not be aware of the individual arousals.’, as he explained common triggers such as sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
The study examined 8,000 men and women between the ages of 64 and 84 for 6 to 11 years, finding women who experience unconscious wakefulness most often and for longer periods had nearly double the risk of dying from a heart problem.
The risk of dying from any cause among women was 21%, which increased to 31.5% among women with an arousal burden of over 6.5%. The team found that there was an increased risk for men, but it was not statistically significant in some instances.