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Sleep deprivation reported to increase stroke risk

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
sleep deprivation, stroke, sleep apnea, risk factors

According to a new study, workers routinely sleep less than six hours a night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke.

Researchers affiliated with American Academy of Sleep Medicine presented their findings on June 11 at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston, Massachusetts. Experts on sleep recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night; however, a May 2012 government study found that 30% of US workers get six hours or less. Furthermore, the number of individuals who report eight or more hours of sleep per night has decreased from 38% in 2001 to 28% in 2011.

The study group was comprised of 5,666 individuals followed for up to three years. At enrollment in the study, the participants had no history of stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), stroke symptoms, or high risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham recorded the first stroke symptoms, along with demographic information, stroke risk factors, depression symptoms and various health behaviors.

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After adjusting for body-mass index (BMI), the researchers 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. Habitually sleeping less than six hours a night significantly increases the risk of stroke symptoms among middle-age to older adults who are of normal weight and at low risk for OSA. Interestingly, the study found no association between short sleep periods and stroke symptoms among overweight and obese participants.

“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,” noted lead author Megan Ruiter, PhD. She added, “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.” She added that further research may support the results, providing a strong argument for increasing both physician and public awareness of the impact of sleep as a risk factor for stroke symptoms, especially among individuals who appear to have few or no traditional risk factors for stroke, she said. She explained, “Sleep and sleep-related behaviors are highly modifiable with cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches and/or pharmaceutical interventions. These results may serve as a preliminary basis for using sleep treatments to prevent the development of stroke.”

The investigators amassed their data as part of the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, led by George Howard, PhD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. REGARDS enrolled 30,239 people ages 45 and older between January 2003 and October 2007; these individuals will continue to be followed for health changes. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Reference: American Academy of Sleep Medicine