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Excessive sleepiness linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes


Hypersomnolence, or excessive daytime sleepiness, in older adults is a risk factor for developing several serious medical conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, new research suggests. A study of almost 11,000 participants shows those who reported excessive sleepiness were twice as likely as their nonsleepy counterparts to develop these conditions. Hypersomnolence was also linked to development of musculoskeletal and connective tissue conditions.

“Paying attention to sleepiness in older adults could help doctors predict and prevent future medical conditions,” study investigator Maurice M. Ohayon, MD, PhD, Stanford University, California, said in a news release.

The findings were released March 1 ahead of the study’s scheduled presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. The AAN canceled the meeting and released abstracts and access to presenters for press coverage.

Early warning sign

Prior research has suggested an association between hypersomnolence and several psychiatric disorders, as well as cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. However, its role in the development of other medical conditions is not as well studied.

The current investigation included 10,930 adults who were interviewed by phone on two separate occasions 3 years apart. At the second interview, 3,701 participants were at least 65 years old and 59% were women.

About 23% of the elderly participants reported hypersomnolence in the first interview and 24% reported it in the second interview. Of these individuals, 41% said during the first and second interviews that excessive daytime sleepiness was a chronic problem.

After adjusting for gender and obstructive sleep apnea status, participants who reported hypersomnolence in the first interview had more than a twofold greater risk of developing diabetes (relative risk [RR], 2.3; 95% CI, 1.5 - 3.4) or hypertension (RR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.5 - 3.4) 3 years later than those who did not report this problem. They were also twice as likely to develop cancer (RR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.1 - 3.8).

Of the 840 participants who reported hypersomnolence at the first interview, 52 (6.2%) developed diabetes compared with 74 (2.9%) who did not have excessive daytime sleepiness. Twenty (2.4%) individuals who reported hypersomnolence developed cancer compared with 21 (0.8%) who did not have it. Chronic hypersomnolence was associated with a greater than twofold increased risk of developing heart disease (RR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.8 - 3.4).

Those who reported hypersomnolence at the second interview also were 50% more likely to have diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, such as arthritis, tendinitis, and lupus, than their peers who did not have excessive daytime sleepiness.

The findings suggest that hypersomnolence in the elderly “can be an early sign of a developing medical condition,” the investigators wrote.

A limitation of the study is that it relied on participants’ memories rather than monitoring their sleep length and quality and daytime sleepiness in a sleep clinic, they noted.


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