It’s no secret that stress and lack of sleep can negatively impact all aspects of health, so it should be far from surprising that research from the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2023 found that stress and insomnia are linked to irregular heart rhythm in postmenopausal women.
As the AHA noted:
Psychosocial factors are “the missing piece to the puzzle” that can lead to atrial fibrillation, or AFib, the study’s lead author said. The findings were published … in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“I see many postmenopausal women with picture-perfect physical health who struggle with poor sleep and negative psychological emotional feelings or experience, which we now know may put them at risk for developing atrial fibrillation,” lead author Dr. Susan X. Zhao said in a news release. Zhao is a cardiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in California.
Study: Stress, Insomnia Linked to Irregular Heartbeat After Menopause
In order to explore the link between psychosocial factors and atrial fibrillation, the researchers analyzed data on postmenopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative. In total, 83,736 women with an average age of nearly 64 years old — range of 50–79 — were included, with 23,954 cases of atrial fibrillation found after following up approximately 10 years later (more than 28% of participants).
In order to determine potential factors in the women with irregular heartbeat incidences, the study authors had the women complete questionnaires that addressed some of the following categories:
- stressful life events
- sense of optimism
- social support
As the AHA put it:
The participants answered questions about stressful life events, such as the loss of a loved one, illness, divorce, financial pressure, and domestic, verbal, physical or sexual abuse. Questions about their sleeping habits focused on overall quality and if they had trouble falling asleep or woke up during the night. Other questions addressed their life and social supports and their sense of optimism.
The researchers found: “For each additional point on the insomnia scale, there is a 4% higher likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation. Similarly, for each additional point on the stressful life event scale, there is a 2% higher likelihood of having atrial fibrillation.”
“The heart and brain connection has been long established in many conditions,” Zhao said in the press release. “Atrial fibrillation is a disease of the electrical conduction system and is prone to hormonal changes stemming from stress and poor sleep. These common pathways likely underpin the association between stress and insomnia with atrial fibrillation.”
Tips to Help Prevent AFib
1. Find Ways to Lower Stress Levels
- exercise and yoga
- meditation and healing prayer
- eating a nutrient-dense diet
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- spending time in nature
- herbs and essential oils
2. Get Enough Sleep
- Use natural sleep aids, such as sleep-promoting foods, calcium, magnesium, essential oils, passion flower, valerian root and St. John’s wort.
- Practice sleep hygiene best practices, including sticking to a consistent schedule, creating a bedtime routine, making a comfortable sleep environment, limiting screen exposure before bedtime, watching what you eat and drink, regularly exercising, limiting napping, managing stress, avoiding watching the clock, getting natural light during the day, etc.
- Try a weighted blanket.
3. Protect Heart Health
Some of the best ways to protect your heart and avoid irregular heartbeat issues like atrial fibrillation and tachycardia include:
- vagal maneuvers, such as coughing, bearing down, blowing through a syringe, cold stimulus to the face, gagging and carotid massage
- eat a health, anti-inflammatory diet
- regularly exercise
- quit smoking
- maintain a healthy weight
- reduce stress
- get yearly checkup from your doctor
- reduce intake of toxins
- avoid energy drinks and limit alcohol