Bereaved spouses with sleep disturbances more susceptible to heart disease: study

CHICAGO, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — Bereaved spouses with sleep disturbances are more susceptible to heart disease or cancer as a result of over-activated immune system and resulting chronic inflammation, a study of Northwestern Medicine and Rice University reported.

The study, named Project Heart, looked at 101 individuals, average age 67. Half were identified through obituaries after they lost a spouse. The other half were the same age but were married or single.

The main sleep disturbance driving the over-activated immune system was poor sleep efficiency, which can include insomnia, early waking or difficulty falling asleep. The study controlled for other factors such as depression, obesity and co-morbid medical conditions.

The overactive immune system was measured by the level of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

And the results showed the association between sleep disturbances and inflammation was two to three times higher in the grieving spouses.

“We already knew bereaved people had higher inflammation and a higher risk for heart disease and dying within a year of the spouse’s death,” said Diana Chirinos, research assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Now we know it’s not the grief itself; it is the sleep disturbance that arises from that grief.”

The results showed the importance of getting treatment for sleep problems for the bereaved.

The study has been published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

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