Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is one of the most important things you can do for your health. However, many people still struggle to get the sleep they need. This can increase the risk of a variety of serious health problems. According to a new study, the kidneys may be especially sensitive to the impact of a lifetime of sleepless nights: Chronic insomnia increases risk of kidney disease and even kidney failure. The millions of people around the world who struggle to get much-needed rest may be in serious physical danger.
What is Kidney Disease?
Kidneys are a vital part of our body’s detoxification process. Not only do they clear the bloodstream of metabolic wastes, but they also are an integral part of breaking down medications, vitamins and other compounds. Kidneys also help to manage blood pressure, regulate the production of new red blood cells and maintain electrolyte balance. Kidneys play a variety of other important roles in our health. When the kidneys begin to lose the ability to work effectively, the body suffers in a variety of ways.
Kidney disease often manifests first in an inability to cleanse toxic substances from the bloodstream. This can cause fluid build-up, leading to excessive swelling and shortness of breath. As toxic substances build up in the body, people also may suffer weakness, vomiting and trouble sleeping. Many develop kidney disease as they age, but a variety of drugs can cause it. Dehydration, trauma, serious infections and medical procedures also can cause damage to the kidneys. Lifestyle factors are also important, as people can damage kidneys slowly without realizing it. According to new research, chronic insomnia may be a very important contributing factor.
How Insomnia Increases Risk of Kidney Disease
Insomnia affects more than a third of adults, putting millions at heightened risk of ADHD, depression, metabolic disease and even heart disease. With the knowledge that the circadian rhythm affects almost every body system, a group of scientists decided to explore how insomnia may affect the kidneys. They looked at a group of veterans, some with insomnia and some without. Compared to people with normal sleeping habits, those with chronic insomnia had 1.5 times of the risk of kidney decline and 2.4 times the risk of kidney failure. In addition, they had 1.4 times the risk of mortality from all causes. This connection was present even when adjusted for confounding factors such as socioeconomic status and other health conditions.
These findings are significant in part because kidney disease is both common and potentially deadly. Around 14 percent of Americans have kidney disease, so an increase in risk is significant enough to affect many people. Kidney disease is not just uncomfortable, but deadly. People who have progressive kidney failure often die from it even with dialysis and other treatments. This research is also interesting because people with kidney disease are known to suffer from sleep disorders as a result of their illness. Poor sleep may set up a very negative cycle, in which insomnia damages the kidneys which in turn makes it harder to sleep.
Links Between Kidney Disease and Sleep Disorders
How does chronic kidney disease cause insomnia? Increased fluid in the body can contribute to sleep apnea, which forces people to wake several times a night. The gradual build-up of metabolic wastes such as uremic acid makes people uncomfortable, which also contributes to sleepless nights. Anxiety and stress about a serious chronic illness and the medical care that this disease requires also may be a partial cause. As a result, around half of people with advanced kidney disease, in stages 3 through 5, suffer from sleep disorders.
However, there may be other factors at play in this connection. Researchers are not sure why insomnia causes higher rates of kidney disease, but there may be a currently unknown biochemical link. Whatever the cause, it is clearly important to prevent and treat insomnia promptly, before it can contribute to life-threatening chronic disease.
Managing Insomnia: A Crucial Preventative Care Intervention
Insomnia can be very difficult to treat, but there are many approaches that may be effective. First, people should practice good sleep hygiene. This means going to bed and rising at roughly the same times every day, even on weekends. Keeping screens and bright lights turned off for about an hour before bedtime also can help people to fall asleep. Melatonin supplements and simple remedies such as chamomile tea are helpful for many who struggle to fall asleep. There are also prescription medications that can help people to fall and stay asleep, although these are a last resort due to serious side effects. The scientists behind this new study hope that knowledge of a connection between insomnia and kidney disease will encourage doctors to take insomnia and other sleep disorders more seriously and to intervene when necessary.
Kidney disease contributes to millions of deaths every year. There currently are few interventions, leaving many people to struggle with the progressive and potentially life-threatening symptoms of this chronic health problem. However, we may be able to prevent kidney disease with simple measures such as avoiding certain medications and actively treating insomnia. Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is not just good for your daily function and mood, but important to your physical health as well.