Sleep deprivation can increase risk of stroke in adults fourfold

Rest assured — a consistent, good night’s sleep could decrease the risk of having a stroke later in life, a new study says.

Researchers have found that adults middle-aged and older who sleep six hours or less per night on a regular basis are four times more likely to suffer a stroke. Self-reported sleep data was collected from 5,666 subjects, ages 45 and older, of relatively normal weight (the body mass index range was between 18.5 and 24.99) over the course of three years. Study participants had no known history of stroke nor had they any symptoms; those at high risk for sleep apnea were not included in the study. Subjects reported back about their sleep habits and possible stroke symptoms every 6 months.

Whereas previous studies have linked sleep deprivation to cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks, this is the first study that has been able to trace a connection between the likelihood of enduring a stroke in one’s lifetime and regular lack of slumber. The study also sets itself apart with its assertion that these risks apply to almost every adult, even those adhering to proper diets and those who don’t have any other risk factors commonly associated with strokes.

"People know how important diet and exercise are in preventing strokes," said Megan Ruiter, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "The public is less aware of the impact of insufficient amounts of sleep. Sleep is important — the body is stressed when it doesn't get the right amount."

Regardless of the novel nature of the findings, most physicians and medical experts note the linkage between sleep and strokes makes sense. Some experts believe a lack of sleep can accrue unhealthy cortisol levels, which can trigger a series of events known to end in a stroke. When someone does not get enough sleep, Ruiter said, increased inflammation coupled with higher blood pressure and the release of hormones like cortisol can evoke a greater stress response — an atmosphere rife with stroke risk.

With the causes of some strokes difficult to identify, a vast reaching symptom such as sleep deprivation opens up the possibility for more diagnostic avenues that physicians can investigate when helping their patients.

"We know that in about a third of patients with ischemic stroke, doctors are unable to define a cause," Michael Frankel, MD, director of vascular neurology at Emory University and director of the Marcus Stroke & Neuroscience Center at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, told HealthDay News. "Reduction in sleep may be contributing in some of these patients."

A separate government study conducted in May found that 30 percent of working adults get six hours of sleep or less. During an era where sleep is often sacrificed to pursue other duties or activities, a shift in lifestyle priorities must ensue.

Keith Siller, MD, medical director of the NYU Comprehensive Stroke Care Center in New York City, outlines the need for changing lifestyle practices and what Ruiter’s study means for the future of stroke prevention: "I see this as part of a general message that along with exercise and a proper diet, a good night's sleep should be included in a healthy lifestyle," he said.

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