Chronic Insomnia in Men Could Mean Early Death

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Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, Pennsylvania, found that there is a four times greater risk of premature death for those men who suffer from chronic insomnia. In addition, the study deduced that women can cope with a lack of sleep far better than their male counterparts, as insomnia proved to have little effect on their life expectancy.

Insomnia is a risky and serious disease

The newest research found that insomnia is a "serious disease with significant physical consequences, including mortality," said study leader Alexandros N. Vgontzas, director of Penn State University's Sleep Research & Treatment Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The study clearly found that chronic insomnia in men could mean early death.

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep and is the most common sleep disorder, affecting about 30 percent of people in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Chronic insomniacs are those who have had the disorder consistently for at least a year.

Though the researchers didn't specifically study people who reported lack of sleep due to their lifestyle, Vgontzas emphasized that "losing sleep for whatever reason is bad for your health." For instance, he has published previous results showing that curtailing sleep in young adults by two hours a night for just one week is linked to inflammation that may cause cardiovascular problems.

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The new study changes "how we view insomnia," said Vipin Garg, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. "It definitely is pointing attention to insomnia as more than a psychological disorder," said Garg, who was not involved in the research.

There was no such link between insomnia and premature death in women, insomniacs and healthy sleepers both had a mortality rate of just over 2 percent during the study period. The study did conclude however that chronic insomnia in men could mean an early death.

There could be two reasons for the gender discrepancy, Vgontzas said. Since the women's study was started later, there was not as much time for follow-up as for the men. It's also possible there's a "gender effect" - though insomnia is less common in men, it's generally more severe, he said.

The researchers did not include cause of death in their study, but study leader Vgontzas said that "no one dies directly from insomnia." Insomnia can wear on people gradually, making them more likely to succumb to other ailments.

Dr. Kirsten Bracht at Denver's Porter Adventist Hospital says these studies emphasize the importance of getting a full night of sleep. "I think most people are becoming aware now that they aren't sleeping as much as they should," Bracht said. "I think in the past we all thought we could get away on less sleep, and I think we are understanding and realizing how important sleep is." Researchers will continue to study why chronic insomnia in men could mean early death.

Updated 12/23/2014

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