Poor sleep equals three strikes and a stroke

I can’t say enough about the healing power of a perfect night’s sleep. If you drift to sleep easily and sleep deeply for just the right amount of time, you wake up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to face the world. But unfortunately, sleep’s powers work in the opposite direction too…

If you don’t get enough… or even if you get too much… you’re putting your life on the line. That’s because chronic sleep problems lead to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Poor sleep makes you age faster as well.

Those are all very convincing reasons to take your sleep seriously. But if you need another reason, there’s one more condition with a stunning connection to poor sleep.

It’s a “brain attack” that can strike at any time regardless of your age. It can take your life in the blink of an eye. Or leave you permanently paralyzed.

I’m talking about stroke — and it’s alarmingly common in people with sleep problems.

In fact, in recent years, four separate large-scale scientific studies involving over 4.5 million participants found a significant association between sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) conditions — like sleep apnea — and stroke.

But the most recent scientific review conducted by German researchers uncovered even more alarming information about how your quality of sleep affects your stroke risk…

They reviewed 29 separate studies that included a total of 2,343 people, and found that sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and sleep-wake disturbance (SWD) disorders:

  • Increase your risk for a first stroke
  • Increase your risk for a secondary stroke
  • Slow down your recovery after a stroke

That’s basically three strikes… and you’re out.

The fact that sleep disorders increase your risk of stroke is scary. Period.  But unless something changes with your sleep, that increased risk for a second stroke is especially concerning… because you may not recover.  A second stroke is most likely to kill or paralyze you because your brain is already damaged.

According to German researchers, 72 percent of people who have a secondary stroke also have a sleep-disordered breathing condition. A correlation that high is no coincidence.

Now, it’s easy for me to say that you should do your best to get a better night’s sleep. But for people with chronic sleep conditions, it’s not always that simple.

Your first step for a lot of these disorders should be to see a sleep specialist. If you have sleep apnea, for example, a sleep specialist can prescribe a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that will help you breathe (and sleep) a little easier.

But if you’re dealing with run-of-the-mill insomnia, there are a few sleep secrets you can try right now without getting a specialist involved, like:

  • Taking natural sleep aids such as melatonin. In addition to helping you sleep it reduces chronic disease risk. Others you can try are valerian, kava, hops or Saint John’s wort or a few ounces of tart cherry juice an hour before bedtime.
  • Using a white noise machine
  • Getting acupuncture
  • Exercising more
  • Meditating
  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Staying away from brightly-lit electronic devices for two hours before bed

If you’re taking pharmaceutical sleep aids, ditch them for natural sweet dreams. The pills can increase your mortality as much as smoking a pack a day.

  1. “’Striking’ Link Between Sleep Disturbances and Stroke.” Medscape. http://www.medscape.com. August 8, 2016.
  2. “Sleep and Disease Risk.” Harvard Medical School. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  3. “Secondary Stroke Fact Sheet.” The National Stroke Association. http://www.stroke.org. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.