Atrial fibrillation, irregular heartbeat risk higher with poor sleep in elderly

Atrial fibrillationAtrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) risk is higher with poor sleep in elderly, according to research findings. The researchers examined three sources of data to isolate and confirm the impact of inadequate sleep on atrial fibrillation.

The researchers found that disrupted sleep may be an independent risk factor for atrial fibrillation. People who reported frequent nighttime awakening were 26 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. Those diagnosed with insomnia had a 29 percent higher risk of atrial fibrillation diagnosis.


Lead study author Matt Christensen explained, “The idea that these three studies gave us consistent results was exciting.”

In a separate analysis, the same researchers reviewed a subset of the Cardiovascular Health Study to better understand the impact of sleep disruptions during different sleep phases on people without sleep apnea and on their risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

The analysis found having less rapid eye movement sleep than other sleep phases was associated with a higher risk of irregular heartbeat.

Christensen added, “By examining the actual characteristics of sleep, such as how much REM sleep you get, it points us toward a more plausible mechanism. There could be something particular about how sleep impacts the autonomic nervous system.”

A possible explanation for the link between sleep disruptions and atrial fibrillation is that frequent awakening puts added stress on the heart.

Senior author of both abstracts, Gregory Marcus explained, “Ultimately, even without a clear understanding of the responsible mechanisms, we believe these findings suggest that strategies to enhance sleep quality, such as incorporating known techniques to improve sleep hygiene, may help prevent this important arrhythmia.”


Poor sleep is a known risk factor for many heart-related problems. These studies reaffirm the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Sleep habits to keep your heart healthy

As mentioned, not getting a good night’s sleep can put your heart at risk for various health conditions, from high blood pressure to atrial fibrillation. If you’re not sleeping well, you could be setting yourself up for a cardiovascular event. Here are some tips to help you improve the quality of your sleep. Mind you, if natural methods don’t work, you should see your doctor for a sleep test to get your chronic sleeping problems properly diagnosed.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Ensure your bedroom supports good sleep – it’s dark, cool, and quiet
  • Avoid stimulants prior to bed – smoking, alcohol, caffeine, exercise
  • Avoid using technology prior to bed or bringing it into your bed – the blue light emitted from your gadgets messes up your natural circadian clock and the release of melatonin
  • Create a pre-sleep calming ritual or a relaxation routine
  • Reduce stress by practicing medication or breathing techniques

By implementing some of these practices into your bedtime routine, you can promote a better sleep and keep your heart safe.


Related Reading:

Orthostatic hypotension associated with a 40 percent increase in atrial fibrillation risk

National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month: Sleep apnea, heart attack, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and stroke