Too Little Sleep May Raise Stroke Risk

Researchers say it's an overlooked risk factor, especially for older adults

We generally think that high blood pressure and being overweight are the main contributors to stroke risk. But researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) say they have found another – too little sleep.

The researchers on the project say older adults who regularly get less than six hours of sleep a night have significantly higher risk of stroke symptoms. The study included more than 5,600 people who were followed for three years.

The participants in the study had no history of stroke or stroke symptoms at the start of the study. The researchers then recorded the first stroke symptoms, along with demographic information, stroke risk factors, depression symptoms and various health behaviors.

After adjusting for body-mass index (BMI), they found a strong association with daily sleep periods of less than six hours and a greater incidence of stroke symptoms for middle-age to older adults, even beyond other risk factors.

The study found no association between short sleep periods and stroke symptoms among overweight and obese participants.

Takes a toll

"In employed middle-aged to older adults, relatively free of major risk factors for stroke such as obesity and sleep-disordered breathing, short sleep duration may exact its own negative influence on stroke development," said lead author Megan Ruiter, PhD. "We speculate that short sleep duration is a precursor to other traditional stroke risk factors, and once these traditional stroke risk factors are present, then perhaps they become stronger risk factors than sleep duration alone."

The researchers say their findings mean physicians should discuss sleep habits with their middle aged and senior patients. It's especially important, they say, to have this conversation if the patient appears otherwise healthy and displays no other risk factors.

"Sleep and sleep-related behaviors are highly modifiable with cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches and/or pharmaceutical interventions," Ruiter said. "These results may serve as a preliminary basis for using sleep treatments to prevent the development of stroke."

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