As a chronic disease with symptoms like headaches, chest pain, and other stressors, you might naturally assume anemia could cause sleep deprivation. According to a recent cross-sectional study, some genetic components may provide common ground for anemia and insomnia. However, the research has limitations.¹
Keep reading to understand the relationship between anemia and insomnia based on recent scientific findings.
We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Anemia, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.
Anemia is a condition where the body lacks enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin — a protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood.
Iron deficiency is the leading cause of anemia, with as many as 50% of people with the condition having iron-deficiency anemia. Iron is essential for hemoglobin production. Therefore, when your body has insufficient iron, hemoglobin production declines, limiting your oxygen supply.²
This condition is more common in young children and pregnant or premenopausal women. You may also be at a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia if you have any of these conditions:³ ⁴
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic heart failure
Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis
People who consume a vegetarian diet also have a higher risk.⁵
According to the American Society of Hematology, symptoms of anemia can range from mild to severe and may go unnoticed for a long time. Symptoms include the following:⁶
Shortness of breath
Cold feet and hands
Talk to your doctor or call 911 if you have severe anemia symptoms.
Anemia commonly stems from insufficient iron levels. It’s more common in women due to the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
But what other factors can contribute to deficient iron levels in the body? Here are some common reasons for iron deficiency:
Nutrition plays a key role in iron deficiency. When there isn’t enough iron in your diet, you may run the risk of developing iron deficiency. This is especially true for young children and pregnant women — groups with higher iron requirements.
Some medical conditions can cause internal bleeding, which can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Examples include colon cancer, stomach ulcers, or hematuria.
Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also predispose you to chronic GI bleeds.⁷
Even if you eat iron-rich foods, your body might not absorb iron effectively.
Specific disorders, such as celiac disease, can interfere with iron absorption in the body. Your iron absorption could also be affected if you have undergone bariatric surgery, such as a gastric bypass.
Several studies on the relationship between iron deficiency anemia and insomnia have noted an increased prevalence of insomnia in people with iron deficiency. However, because all such studies have been cross-sectional, researchers have only been able to establish an association.⁸
A more recent genome-wide study on the genes associated with insomnia revealed that a specific gene known as MEIS1 has a strong link to the condition.⁹
The gene has also been linked to restless leg syndrome (RLS), a condition associated with iron deficiency anemia. RLS is a condition characterized by an unpleasant or uncomfortable urge to move the legs. This urge occurs during periods of inactivity, particularly in the evenings. It is relieved by movement, but it may cause difficulty sleeping.¹⁰
The first thing to do when you have severe insomnia or anemia is to talk to your doctor. They will examine the severity of your condition and recommend the best possible treatment options.
Besides medication, your doctor may advise you to make some lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms, such as:
Taking iron supplements
Avoiding caffeine or caffeine-infused products like polyphenols in large quantities
Eating iron-rich foods
Here are some iron-rich foods for anemia and insomnia that your doctor may recommend adding to your diet:
Nuts: Nuts are excellent sources of vitamins, healthy fats, and minerals such as nonheme iron.
Legumes: These include iron-rich foods such as peas and lentils. Besides iron, they also contain vitamins, proteins, fiber, and other plant compounds.
Meat: Animal sources contain heme iron. This type of iron has a higher bioavailability, meaning it can be absorbed more easily.
Dark leafy greens: These are vegetables rich in chlorophyll. They contain lots of minerals, including iron and other vitamins. Spinach, kale, lettuce, and collard are examples of iron-rich, dark, leafy vegetables.
Fish: Various fish species contain omega-3 fatty acids and iron.
Scientists believe there may be an association between anemia and the prevalence of insomnia, but more research is needed, and study results should be interpreted with caution.
See your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you have anemia. They may recommend various medications (supplements) to help increase iron levels in your body. They will also recommend avoiding certain foods and consuming others more. Eating iron-rich foods such as nuts, legumes, meat, and fish helps treat anemia deficiency and improve sleep.
An adult needs around 7–9 hours of sleep per night, regardless of whether they are anemic.¹¹
Women lose more iron from their bodies throughout their lifetimes due to the menstrual cycle and possible pregnancy. This means they are more susceptible to developing anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia (2023)
Anemia | American Society of Hematology
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the gastrointestinal tract | Royal College of Physicians