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Excessive daytime sleepiness associated with heart disease, cancer, diabetes

In elderly people, excessive daytime sleepiness can nearly double the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It is also associated with many connective tissue and musculoskeletal disorders.

Executive Summary

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) in older adults is a risk factor for developing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Read the full article to know about the relative risks of contracting these conditions for elderly EDS patients compared to their counterparts who don’t have it. Also, learn about other medical conditions that are likely to be present in elderly people with EDS.

Problems associated with sleep are known to lead to various diseases. There are various factors that can cause lack of sleep.

Lack of sleep

Certain sleep disorders such as obstructive or central sleep apnoea, sleep–related hypoxemia or hypo-ventilation syndromes can lead to short sleep.

Some other factors may not involve any underlying medical condition. For example, short sleep can be caused by drinking stimulants such as tea or coffee, around sleep time, staring at various screens such as computers or TVs, work deadlines, or late night flights.

Sometimes, lack of adequate sleep may not be apparent. In such cases, you have to keep an eye for subtle signs of sleep deficit. Read on this website: 14 signs of sleep deprivation you may miss.

A remarkable study showed that lack of adequate sleep is not only associated with heart attacks but also causes many of them. It was hailed as the most important study in preventive cardiology. Read on this website: Short sleep duration can cause more heart attacks.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is one consequence of short sleep. It involves feeling sleepy when being awake is expected.

To rule out qualitative judgement, Epworth Sleepiness Test (EST) was designed. It helps you decide if you really suffer from excessive daytime sleeping. Read of this website: Are you suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness?

Various studies have shown that EDS is associated with many psychiatric disorders. It is linked to Alzheimer’s disease as well as other ways of cognitive decline.

However, the role of excessive daytime sleepiness in other medical conditions is not that well known. A new research throws some light on the effect of EDS on heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The study was to be presented in American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting in April 2020. However, since the conference got cancelled due to Covid-19, read that abstract here.

The Research

The researcher interviewed 10,930 adults—59% of whom were women—by phone twice. The second interview was 3 years after the first one.

At the time of the second interview, 3701 participants were at least 65 years old. The study looked at the disease outcomes over 3 years for these elderly people.

Nearly 23% and 24% of the elderly people reported excessive daytime sleepiness in the first and the second interview, respectively. EDS was a chronic problem for 41% of those reporting the condition.

The relative risks (RR) of developing various conditions in the 3 years were as follows:

  • Diabetes: RR 2.3
  • High blood pressure: RR 2.3
  • Cancer: RR 2.0

Those who reported EDS were also 50% more likely (Odds Ratio, OR = 1.5) to have diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, such as arthritis, tendinitis, and lupus, than those who did not have EDS.

Note that the earlier numbers were about ‘developing’ conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Hence, we used relative Risk, or the ratio of risks of developing the condition in the two groups—EDS group and non-EDS group.

The last number was about ‘having’ musculoskeletal system and connective tissue disorders. So it uses odds ratio, or the ratio of odds or probabilities, of having the conditions in the two groups.

For healthcare professionals, read: Excessive sleepiness at daytime may signal heart disease, cancer, diabetes.


The investigators suggested that:

  • EDS in the elderly can be an early sign of a developing medical condition.
  • Paying attention to sleepiness in older adults could help doctors predict and prevent future medical conditions.
  • Asking about sleepiness, sleep, or sleep quality should be a vital sign just like temperature, blood pressure, weight, and other parameters.

First published on: 25th July, 2020

Image: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


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