Warning: Chronic Insomnia may be Hazardous to your Health

Chances are that you have had insomnia at some point.

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early is a fairly common medical complaint, affecting about 1 out of five adults in the United States. It is estimated that about half of those individuals suffer from chronic insomnia.

Now, a new study has found that people who suffer from chronic insomnia face a higher risk of dying.

40-year Respiratory Study

Researchers looked at data from a long-term respiratory study, the Tucson Epidemiological Study of Airway Obstructive Disease, which began in 1972 and has followed participants for many decades.

After careful analysis of the data, researchers found that chronic insomnia is associated not only with elevated levels of inflammation in the blood, but a 58 percent increase in risk of death.

We found that participants with persistent insomnia were at increased risk of dying due to heart and lung conditions independent of the effects of hypnotics, opportunity for sleep (as distinguished from sleep deprivation), sex, age, and other known confounding factors, said University of Arizona’s Sairam Parthasarathy.


Unlike intermittent insomnia, chronic or persistent insomnia that lasts for at least six years is associated with mortality. Moreover, greater levels of inflammation, as measured by a biomarker in blood called C-reactive protein, and a steeper rise in such biomarkers of inflammation is associated with the persistence of insomnia and death.

Biomarker-based Research

Although there were higher levels of inflammation and steeper rises in inflammation in individuals with persistent insomnia when compared to those with intermittent or no insomnia, more research into other pathways by which persistent insomnia may lead to increased mortality needs to be explored, according to research associate professor of medicine Stefano Guerra.

Such biomarker-based research could potentially help advance precision science in predicting future clinical outcomes in patients with insomnia.

While other research has demonstrated a link between insomnia and death, whether this association holds true for both chronic and intermittent insomnia remains unknown. Many underlying mechanisms for why chronic insomnia may lead to death have been suggested but not been shown.

Persistent Insomnia Is Associated With Mortality Risk
Parthasarathy, Sairam, Vasquez, Monica M.,Halonen, Marilyn, Bootzin, Richard, Quan, Stuart F., Martinez, Fernando D., Guerra, Stefano
The American Journal of Medicine 2014/11/25 doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.10.015

Photo credits, top to bottom: Kevin Jaako, Charlie