Study: Insomnia Greatly Increases Risk of Asthma Over Time

People who have trouble sleeping are likely to develop asthma.

According to a new research report, people who experience difficulties sleeping are much more likely than the general population to develop asthma.

Scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology came to the conclusion after examining data for 17,927 patients enrolled in the ongoing Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT). Participants were asthma-free at the study’s inception and all were between the ages of 20 and 65. Participants were asked at intervals to report problems associated with asthma, according to Linn Beate Strand, PhD, a sleep researcher and last author on the study.

“Insomnia, defined as having difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep, or having poor sleep quality, is common among asthma patients, but whether insomnia patients have a higher risk of developing asthma at a later stage has not been thoroughly investigated,” said Strand, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in a press release.

The data from this study suggested a link, showing that patients with symptoms of insomnia were three times more likely to develop asthma over time. The average follow-up with patients in the study was 11 years.

Furthermore, the data suggested that the more severe the insomnia symptoms, the greater the likelihood that an individual patient would develop asthma. Patients who said they “often” have trouble falling asleep at night had a 65% higher risk of developing asthma over time. Those who reported sleep difficulties “almost every night” had a 108% higher risk of asthma.

Patients who woke up early “often” or “almost every night” and then experienced trouble getting back to sleep, had increased asthma risks of 92% and 36%. Patients reporting poor sleep quality on multiple nights per week had nearly double the risk of developing asthma compared to the general population.

Ben Michael Brumpton, PhD, researcher at the Norwegian university and lead author said the study “suggests that any changes in the body due to insomnia may accumulate and result in more severe harmful effects on the airways.”

As Strand alluded to, this isn’t the first time insomnia and asthma have been linked. A December study in CHEST found that the inverse of the Norwegian study was true. Insomnia appeared to be highly prevalent in asthma patients, and could also increase the risk of adverse outcomes.

Similarly, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Asthma suggested that doctors should take more extensive sleep histories from patients in order to evaluate the impact sleep might be having on the patient’s asthma symptoms.

Ohio State University’s John Mastronarde, MD, the lead author of the 2009 study, noted at the time that sleep problems might go unnoticed in most doctor-patient conversations. “Conceivably, nocturnal sleep-related disturbances, in addition to poor daytime function related to fragmented sleep, would not be detected in a routine history taken from patients with asthma,” he said, in an OSU press release.

The Norwegian study, which was published this month in the European Respiratory Journal, is titled “Prospective study of insomnia and incident asthma in adults: the HUNT study".

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