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Jul 08, 2017

Lack of Sleep is Dangerous for Adults with Multiple Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Getting fewer than six hours of sleep increases mortality risk in adults with metabolic syndrome.

Poor sleep habits are especially dangerous for patients with cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and obesity, based on a recent study that links a lack of sleep to increased mortality risk in patients with metabolic syndrome.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study explored the association between sleep and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a clustering of several cardiovascular risk factors, including abdominal obesity, abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated sugar levels. In combination, these risk factors are especially dangerous and have been shown to increase risk for heart attack, stroke and other complications.

Metabolic syndrome affects an estimated 40% of Americans. Since sleep disorders are especially common in patients with metabolic syndrome, experts worry about the impact of poor sleep habits on health outcomes.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Penn State Sleep Cohort, which assessed the sleep habits of 1,344 middle-aged men and women. All participants spent one night in a sleep lab, where their sleep was monitored for an 8-hour period. Participants also underwent medical exams, which assessed factors like weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Researchers then used national death registries to track deaths over the next 17 years.

Overall, 39% of participants had metabolic syndrome, which was defined as having three or more of the risk factors mentioned above, and 22% of participants had died by the end of the study period.

Not surprisingly, mortality rates were much higher among participants with metabolic syndrome than those without. Patients with metabolic syndrome that slept at least 6 hours during their sleep study had 49% greater risk of heart-related death than healthy adults. Worse, patients with metabolic syndrome that slept less than 6 hours had more than twice the risk for death than healthy adults.

What this study shows, explain authors, is that short sleep duration may worsen outcomes in patients with metabolic syndrome. Findings are especially troubling, given the high rates of both metabolic syndrome and sleep disorders in the United States.

With future research, experts hope to test whether improving sleep patterns also reduces mortality risk in patients with metabolic syndrome.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is metabolic syndrome?
  • Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that can greatly increase risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These risk factors include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, a low HDL or “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Individuals with three or more of these risk factors are considered to have metabolic syndrome, and the more risk factors one has, the greater their risk for heart disease and diabetes.
  • What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
  • Most of the conditions associated with metabolic syndrome cause no symptoms. For example, abnormal cholesterol and high blood pressure may not cause any symptoms until they become more advanced. However, having a large waist circumference is a visible sign of metabolic syndrome, and having high blood sugar levels may cause symptoms of diabetes, such as thirst and frequent urination. If you think you may have one or more conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, it’s important to discuss possible testing with your doctor.

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Infographic: Metabolic Syndrome