There are few feelings in life as infuriating as not being able to fall asleep when you really need to. If you spend a lot of time tossing and turning, there are a few reasons why you should think about getting very serious about finding a solution to your insomnia. Sleep deprivation has been linked to all kinds of health consequences, from weight gain to an impaired ability to interpret other people’s emotions. And now, science suggests that lack of sleep may put you at significantly higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.
A meta-analysis has been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that looked at data from fifteen separate insomnia studies. The studies addressed the causes and effects of difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, premature waking and non-restorative sleep that does not result in a “rested” feeling in the morning.
According to the meta-analysis, people who have trouble falling asleep are in the highest risk category. They are 27% more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. People who have interrupted sleep increase their risk by 11%, and people who have non-restorative sleep increase it by 18%.
While the correlation is clear, the causal factors are not. Scientists are still uncertain why sleep problems would elevate your risk profile so dramatically. They speculate, however, that sleep problems may activate your fight-or-flight response, which dumps inflammatory proteins into your bloodstream and raises your blood pressure.
Another possible explanation is that the health effects are actually the result of underlying depression that causes the disordered sleep, and not the disordered sleep itself. Many of the studies from which the meta-analytic data were drawn did not ask their participants about depression symptoms.
Also left unresolved is the question of how insomnia treatments may or may not lower this elevated risk. But it almost certainly couldn’t hurt. If you’re suffering from insomnia, getting treatment may be more important than just trying to feel more alert during the day.
Many sleep specialists prescribe cognitive-behavioral therapy as a treatment for insomnia. If you would prefer to try home remedies first, there are some potentially effective interventions you can try.
Try sleeping with ear plugs in and an eye mask on. Sensory deprivation may help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Some people even go so far as to unplug any electronics that have an LED readout, and blacking out their bedroom windows with heavy drapes or black garbage bags, to eliminate all light.
Also try avoiding all electronics for two hours before sleep. Some people believe the light emitted from computers, tablets and phones simulates sunlight, and can signal your brain to remain alert.
And, of course, healthy diet and adequate exercise contribute to overall wellness. Making sure you exercise properly can not only help you sleep from physical weariness, but can also stave off the potential onset of restless leg syndrome, another potential insomnia factor.