Insomnia triples the risk of asthma, say scientists

Sleepless nights can bring on asthma in adulthood – more than trebling the risk among chronic insomniacs, according to new research.

And those who struggle to nod off most nights are more than twice as likely to develop the potentially fatal lung condition.

The risk rises by two-thirds among those who regularly have difficulty falling asleep, according to the study of almost 18,000 adults.

We know that asthma sometimes goes undiagnosed, under recognised or under reported in the general populationDr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK

Insomnia is on the rise in the UK with up to half of Britons enduring it at some time – making them among the most sleep deprived people in the world.

Dr Ben Brumpton, of Trondheim University Hospital in Norway, said: “A key finding in our study is that those people with chronic insomnia had more than three times the risk of developing asthma, compared to those without chronic insomnia, which suggests that any changes in the body due to insomnia may accumulate and result in more severe harmful effects on the airways.”

Asthma affects about 300 million people worldwide with major risk factors including smoking, obesity and air pollution.

More recently, symptoms of depression and anxiety have been associated with a risk of developing asthma in adulthood.

Sleep researcher Dr Linn Beate Strand, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said: “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.”

Female asthma sufferer using an inhaler
About 1 in 12 people in the UK suffer from asthma Credit: Alamy

The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, used figures from the ongoing Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT), looking at 17,927 Norwegian aged 20 to 65.

Participants were asked to report sleep initiation and maintenance problems as well as poor quality sleep along with any asthma symptoms at the start and end of the study.

The results showed those reporting difficulty falling asleep “often” or “almost every night” during the last month had a 65 per cent and 108 per cent increased risk of developing asthma over the following eleven years, respectively.

Similarly, those who reported waking too early without being able to go back to sleep “often” or “almost every night” had a 92 per cent and 36 per cent increased risk of developing asthma.

For people who reported poor quality sleep more than once a week, the risk of developing asthma increased by 94 per cent.

When the researchers looked at patients with chronic insomnia – those who had reported one or more insomnia symptoms at the start and 10 years earlier – they had more than three times the risk of developing asthma.

Dr Strand said: “As insomnia is a manageable condition, an increased focus on the adverse health effects of insomnia could be helpful in the prevention of asthma.

“Further prospective studies are required to confirm the findings of our study.”

Last year a survey found 37 per cent of British adults feel they are not getting the right amount of sleep.

Out of 13 countries surveyed, the UK ranked highest for people who feel they do not get sufficient sleep.

A quarter of Brits list getting a better night’s sleep as a health priority, second only to losing weight.

Asthma has been linked with increasing the risk of developing a range of life-threatening illnesses including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP, said: “We know that asthma sometimes goes undiagnosed, under recognised or under reported in the general population.

“This study may be identifying some people with previously unrecognised asthma, but more research should be done on the important association between asthma and sleep.

“We also know that at times of physical and psychological stress people with asthma are more prone to asthma symptoms, which could further contribute to insomnia.

“Experiencing night time asthma symptoms- including early morning waking- is a sign of poorly controlled asthma, which puts people at an increased risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

“It’s important that people with asthma are able to recognise this, and seek clinical assessment if their asthma symptoms are getting worse.”