JAN 10, 2024 10:00 AM PST

Stress, Insomnia Linked to Irregular Heart Rhythms

WRITTEN BY: Savannah Logan

Recent research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that stress and insomnia may be linked to atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart rhythms, in older women.

The study included more than 83,000 women ages 50–79 years who were participants in the Women’s Health Initiative study. Participants filled out questionnaires that included information about psychological and social issues in their lives such as stressful life events, sense of optimism, social support, and insomnia. The participants were followed up with for an average of over 10 years, and the incidence of atrial fibrillation among participants was measured. The goal of the study was to see how psychological and social factors may influence the development of atrial fibrillation.

The results showed that about 25% of the participants developed atrial fibrillation during the follow-up period. Participants were more likely to develop atrial fibrillation if they experienced insomnia or stressful life events. Each additional point on the insomnia scale led to a 4% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, and each additional point on the stressful life event scale led to a 2% higher risk. Examples of stressful life events in the questionnaire included loss of a loved one, illness, divorce, financial pressure, and abuse, while insomnia questions included topics such as trouble falling asleep, regularly waking up multiple times during the night, and overall sleep quality.

The authors noted that a connection between the brain and various heart conditions has been previously established in many studies. The association between atrial fibrillation and the brain may be due to hormonal changes that arise from stress or insomnia. Atrial fibrillation is not life-threatening by itself, but it can raise the risk of other cardiovascular issues such as stroke, blood clots, heart failure, and more.

Sources: Journal of the American Heart Association, Science Daily

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Savannah (she/her) is a scientific writer specializing in cardiology at Labroots. Her background is in medical writing with significant experience in obesity, oncology, and infectious diseases. She has conducted research in microbial biophysics, optics, and education. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon.
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