Daytime Sleepiness is a Heart Attack Risk Factor


Having trouble staying awake all day? Are you drowsy in the morning? Dozing off in the afternoon?

You could be at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and even your doctor doesn’t know it!

Like many of my patients, I’ll bet you take heart health seriously.

You’ve worked hard to lower your cholesterol and triglycerides, manage your weight, and do everything you’ve been told would keep you safe from heart attack and stroke.

But what if all that was wrong? What if difficulty staying awake was actually a sign that a heart attack or stroke was heading your way?

Every year, thousands of Americans die from heart disease, the nation’s number one killer.

Thousands of others suffer strokes that claim their lives or leave them seriously debilitated.

But here’s the thing – half of them did not have any of the classic symptoms, the warning signals alerting them to a possible heart attack or stroke. And many were between the ages of 18 and 34, far younger than the typical heart attack or stroke victim.

In other words, they may have had perfect cholesterol, ideal triglycerides, zero inflammation, a clean bill of health from a doctor – and they still became heart attack or stroke victims!

There was just one thing all these poor souls had in common – sleep problems that made them nod off during the daytime. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this devastating situation.

Daytime sleepiness turned out to be the key symptom uniting these sufferers, according to two important new studies.

In the first clinical trial, researchers found that insomnia increases stroke risk by 54 percent. But for people between the ages of 18 and 34, that risk is a whopping eight times higher!

The second study found that women who struggle to stay awake in the daytime had a 58 percent greater risk for cardiovascular disease than those who slept well. Meanwhile, earlier research shows that if you have sleep apnea (interrupted sleep due to snoring and breathing difficulties) your risk of stroke is doubled.

How can this be? Sleep is not just a pleasant way to spend a few hours. It’s absolutely necessary. Your body makes repairs that keep cells and various organs healthy, while producing much-needed healing hormones.

In fact, sleep is so important that one of the first questions I ask my patients is, “How are you sleeping?” When I hear an answer like “I only need four or five hours’ sleep,” I cringe!

Multi-tasking lifestyles take an enormous toll on health, and have led millions of people to use prescription sleep aids. Trouble is, sleeping pills have some real drawbacks. Side effects often include genuinely troubling things such as:

  • Burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Unusual dreams
  • Weakness

So what do you do when you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep? Here are my three top solutions.

De-stress. Use some type of stress management every day. My patients have reported success with mindfulness meditation, relaxing music, journaling, massage therapy, and exercise. Everyone is different, though, so experiment until you find a method that works for you.

Get up.
 Tossing and turning for more than 15 minutes? Get up and do something. Research has shown that non-stimulating activities – reading, knitting, working puzzles – can help. After 20 minutes or so, you’ll be sleepy enough to go back to bed.

Pop the right pills. Many of the best sleep aids are safe, natural supplements that people have used for years to treat insomnia. Here are a few:

  • Melatonin (3 mg before bedtime), an antioxidant and hormone your body manufactures, is one of my favorites.
  • The mineral magnesium (250 to 500 mg) helps muscles relax.
  • The herb valerian (300 to 600 mg nightly) eases insomnia.
  • Chamomile (400 to 1,600 mg daily) calms anxiety.
  • L-theanine (50 to 200 mg) aids in relaxation.
  • 5-HTP (no more than 400 mg daily) increases production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps with sleep.

A patient I’ll call Derek hit a rough patch on the sleep road when he was promoted to an extremely stressful job. He tried prescription sleep aids first. “I was so groggy the next day, I was like a zombie,” he told me. “There wasn’t enough coffee in the world to get me going.”

Derek found relief with a combination herbal product I recommended. “Getting a good night’s sleep makes a world of difference,” he said later. “I wish everyone knew there are better solutions than prescription drugs.”

So do I! If you think you sleep badly, check with your spouse or partner. Many times, patients tell me they sleep well, while their spouse says otherwise. And if you sleep alone, the best way to tell if you’re getting enough rest is how you feel in the morning. If it’s tough to wake up, take steps to improve the situation or your health could be at risk.



Last Updated: July 8, 2020
Originally Published: June 4, 2014