Intended for Healthcare Professionals
You are here
Home > Blog > Cardiology > Insomnia And The Atrial Fibrillation Connection

Insomnia And The Atrial Fibrillation Connection

Insomnia And The Atrial Fibrillation Connection


This study sought to address a notable gap in the existing literature regarding the potential link between insomnia and the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), a common cardiac arrhythmia associated with significant morbidity and mortality. By utilizing data from the HUNT study, a comprehensive population-based cohort in Norway, the researchers analyzed the association between insomnia symptoms and the subsequent development of AF.


The study included a substantial sample size of 33,983 participants, with a balanced representation of both genders. Insomnia symptoms were meticulously assessed through four distinct questions, allowing for a nuanced examination of sleep disturbances. These symptoms were then analyzed both individually and collectively to comprehensively evaluate their impact on AF risk.


Crucially, the study benefited from a robust follow-up protocol, tracking participants for their first AF diagnosis over a prolonged period until 2020 using meticulously validated AF measures derived from hospital registers. This meticulous approach ensured the accuracy and reliability of AF diagnoses, enhancing the credibility of the study’s findings.


Moreover, the statistical analysis employed Cox regression, which enabled the adjustment for various potential confounding factors known to influence AF risk. These factors included demographic variables, lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and smoking, as well as physiological parameters like blood pressure and body mass index. Furthermore, the model incorporated symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are commonly associated with both insomnia and AF, to account for their potential mediating effects.


Despite identifying a considerable number of AF cases during the follow-up period and a substantial proportion of participants reporting insomnia symptoms, the study’s analysis did not reveal any significant associations between insomnia and AF risk. This suggests that, within the studied population, insomnia symptoms alone may not be a significant predictor of subsequent AF development.


In summary, this study contributes valuable insights into the complex interplay between sleep disturbances and cardiovascular health outcomes, particularly regarding the risk of atrial fibrillation. While the findings did not support a direct association between insomnia symptoms and AF risk in this population, they underscore the importance of further research to elucidate the underlying mechanisms and identify potential modifiable risk factors for AF development in individuals with sleep disturbances.


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a prevalent chronic arrhythmia characterized by irregular and rapid heartbeats. It affects a substantial portion of the global population, with an estimated 33.5 million individuals living with the condition, and approximately 5 million new cases emerging each year. The significance of AF lies not only in its prevalence but also in its association with elevated overall and cardiovascular mortality rates. Moreover, atrial fibrillation substantially amplifies the risk of stroke, increasing it nearly fivefold compared to individuals without AF.


Conversely, insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing poor sleep quality, affects a significant portion of the general population, ranging from 10% to 30%. Beyond its impact on sleep, insomnia has been linked to various adverse health outcomes, including higher total mortality rates and increased risks of conditions such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and depression.


Previous studies have hinted at a potential association between insomnia and an increased risk of AF. Some studies focused on individuals with diagnosed insomnia, while others explored insomnia symptoms in the general population. However, many of these studies were limited by their reliance on self-reported AF or their narrow scope, such as focusing solely on specific insomnia symptoms or utilizing cross-sectional designs. Consequently, there remains a gap in comprehensive, population-based cohort studies that utilize validated AF diagnoses to explore the relationship between insomnia and AF risk.


To address this gap, a population-based study conducted in Norway aimed to investigate the associations between insomnia symptoms and the risk of AF. Unlike previous studies, this research exclusively utilized validated AF cases, ensuring the accuracy of the diagnoses. Furthermore, the study incorporated a wide range of cardiovascular risk factors to comprehensively assess their impact on the observed associations between insomnia symptoms and AF risk. By conducting such a study, researchers aimed to provide more robust evidence regarding the relationship between insomnia and AF, shedding light on potential avenues for intervention and management of both conditions.


The HUNT study, a cornerstone in public health research, unfolds within the picturesque landscapes of Nord-Trøndelag county in Norway. Its comprehensive nature spans four waves, offering a panoramic view of the health landscape across different epochs. Nord-Trøndelag’s populace, while a microcosm of Norway, exhibits subtle variations in educational and income levels, enriching the study’s fabric with nuanced socioeconomic textures. This stability, both in demographics and migration patterns, underscores the study’s reliability, facilitating robust conclusions.


Within the ambit of HUNT3, a mammoth endeavor unfolded between 2006 and 2008, beckoning over 93,000 individuals aged 20 and above to partake in a health odyssey. The response, though eclipsed by the sheer magnitude of the initial call, was substantial, with over 50,000 individuals stepping forward, their consent paving the way for a journey into the depths of health exploration.


These intrepid participants, guided by the diligent hands of trained nurses, embarked on a clinical voyage, where biometric landmarks like height, weight, and blood pressure were meticulously charted, accompanied by the collection of precious blood and saliva specimens. A second, more detailed questionnaire, akin to a compass guiding through the labyrinth of health and lifestyle choices, awaited completion by nearly 34,000 individuals, forming the cornerstone of subsequent analyses.


In the realm of sleep, insomnia’s elusive tendrils were probed through a series of poignant questions, unearthing patterns of nocturnal struggles and daytime lethargy. The creation of a cumulative insomnia score, akin to tallying stars in the night sky, allowed for the categorization of participants into distinct sleep realms, shedding light on the spectrum of insomnia severity.


Meanwhile, the beating rhythms of the heart, as captured through the lens of atrial fibrillation (AF), revealed tales of cardiac rhythm disorders. Through a meticulous process of diagnosis validation, AF cases emerged from the depths of medical records and electrocardiogram readings, casting a spotlight on the heart’s intricate dance.


Demographic factors, reminiscent of threads in a rich tapestry, intertwined with lifestyle variables to paint a vivid portrait of health. Marital status and socioeconomic position stood as sentinels, guarding against the onslaught of health disparities, while lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption and physical activity wove intricate patterns within the fabric of well-being.


Chronic somatic conditions, anxiety, and depression, akin to silent companions on life’s journey, made their presence felt through standardized scales, enriching the narrative with layers of psychological insight.


Thus, the HUNT study emerges not just as a scientific endeavor but as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, a beacon illuminating the path towards better health for generations to come.


Statistical Analysis

The study employed Cox proportional hazard models to investigate the prospective relationship between insomnia symptoms and the risk of incident atrial fibrillation (AF), adjusting for various covariates. Descriptive statistics were first presented for covariates based on the number of insomnia symptoms. Cox models were then utilized to analyze the association between each insomnia symptom individually and the subsequent risk of AF. Adjustment was made for age, sex, socioeconomic factors, lifestyle variables, BMI, systolic blood pressure, and anxiety/depression.


To ensure the robustness of the findings, sensitivity analyses were conducted by excluding participants with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic conditions, or those taking sleep medication for more than 3 months. Effect modification by sex and age was explored, along with supplementary analyses addressing subjective obstructive sleep apnea symptoms to ensure comparability with previous studies.


Furthermore, a stratified analysis was performed to assess whether symptoms of sleep apnea modified the association between insomnia symptoms and AF risk. The study adhered to ethical standards and received approval from the Regional Committees for Medical and Health Research Ethics Central Norway. Overall, the research aimed to provide valuable insights into the potential link between insomnia symptoms and the risk of developing AF, contributing to our understanding of the relationship between sleep disturbances and cardiovascular health.


The study aimed to investigate the prevalence of insomnia symptoms and their potential association with the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) over an average follow-up period of 11.7 years. Initial findings revealed that approximately 26% of the participants reported experiencing one or two insomnia symptoms per week, while 6% reported having more than two insomnia symptoms several times per week at the baseline assessment. Interestingly, a closer examination of the data unveiled distinct demographic and lifestyle characteristics associated with individuals reporting insomnia symptoms. Specifically, those reporting insomnia were more likely to be female, divorced or widowed, engaged in blue-collar occupations, abstained from alcohol and tobacco, led sedentary lifestyles, worked in shift-based jobs, and presented with higher body mass index (BMI) levels. Furthermore, a notable correlation was observed between insomnia symptoms and the presence of common chronic somatic disorders.


Throughout the follow-up period, a total of 1592 participants were diagnosed with AF. However, intriguingly, the study found that individuals experiencing one to two insomnia symptoms or more than two symptoms exhibited similar risks of developing AF compared to those without any insomnia symptoms. This observation remained consistent even after adjusting for potential confounding factors, such as age, sex, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and sleep medication use. Notably, specific insomnia symptoms, such as feeling sleepy during the day, showed only a marginal increase in AF risk in certain instances, with most risk estimates remaining close to 1.


In parallel, the study also explored the association between sleep apnea symptoms and AF risk. Initially, sleep apnea symptoms, including “stops breathing while sleeping” and “snoring loudly,” demonstrated associations with AF risk in the crude model. However, after meticulous adjustment for confounders, these associations attenuated substantially. Interestingly, among individuals exhibiting sleep apnea symptoms, those also experiencing insomnia symptoms displayed a slightly higher risk of developing AF, although the precision of these estimates was uncertain.


Furthermore, stratification based on the regularity of feeling sleepy during the day did not yield significant variations in AF risk estimates, suggesting a consistent pattern across different subgroups. Overall, the study underscores the complex relationship between insomnia symptoms and AF risk, shedding light on the nuanced interplay between sleep disturbances and cardiovascular health. However, further research is warranted to unravel the underlying mechanisms driving this association and inform targeted interventions aimed at mitigating the potential cardiovascular consequences of insomnia.


In this extensive population-based investigation, the study explored insomnia symptoms, encompassing difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, and experiencing non-restorative sleep, in relation to the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF). Surprisingly, no significant association was found between insomnia symptoms and the subsequent risk of AF, even after excluding individuals with various cardiovascular and chronic somatic conditions or prolonged use of sleep medication.


Comparison with prior studies revealed discrepancies, as some previous research suggested a link between insomnia symptoms and AF. However, methodological variations, such as cross-sectional designs susceptible to reverse causation and selective inclusion of severe insomnia cases or those with comorbidities, may have influenced these findings. Additionally, the study highlighted the complex interplay between insomnia, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular risk factors, emphasizing the need for meticulous adjustment in statistical analyses to elucidate the true associations.


Strengths of the study include its robust AF diagnosis methodology and the population-based design, which minimized selection bias. However, limitations, such as reliance on questionnaires for insomnia assessment and the inability to distinguish between acute and chronic insomnia, warrant consideration. Moreover, the generalizability of findings beyond the study population and the necessity for longitudinal assessments of insomnia symptoms and sleep duration for a comprehensive understanding of their impact on AF risk were underscored.


In conclusion, this study did not find evidence supporting an association between insomnia symptoms and subsequent AF risk. Thus, routine additional clinical examinations for AF in patients with insomnia symptoms may not be warranted. However, monitoring for chronic insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms remains advisable. Future research incorporating longitudinal assessments and comprehensive sleep measurements is essential to enhance our understanding of the relationship between insomnia and AF risk.

Oncology Related Tools


Latest Research


About Author

Similar Articles

Leave a Reply