Sleep struggles linked to stroke risk: Unveiling the surprising connection

Individuals younger than 50 are even more at risk, according to new research.

Individuals exhibiting insomnia-related signs like difficulties in falling asleep, maintaining sleep or waking up too prematurely, may stand at a heightened risk of stroke, suggests a recent study in Neurology [1]. A substantial increase in risk was also observed among individuals below 50.

Despite this, the study does not prove a causal connection between insomnia symptoms and stroke but rather highlights a correlation.

“There are many therapies that can help people improve the quality of their sleep, so determining which sleep problems lead to an increased risk of stroke may allow for earlier treatments or behavioral therapies for people who are having trouble sleeping and possibly reducing their risk of stroke later in life,” said study author Wendemi Sawadogo, MD, MPH, PhD, of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and member of the American Academy of Neurology.

A total of 31,126 people with an average age of 61 participated in the study. At the time of the study, none of the participants had a history of stroke.

The participants were asked four questions about how often they had trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night, waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep and feeling rested in the morning. Response options included “most of the time”, “sometimes” or “rarely or never.” Scores ranged from zero to eight, with a higher number meaning more severe symptoms.

The people were then followed for an average of nine years. During that time, there were 2,101 cases of stroke. After accounting for other factors that could affect the risk of stroke, including alcohol use, smoking and physical activity, researchers found that people with one to four symptoms had a 16% increased risk of stroke compared to people with no symptoms [2].

Of the 19,149 people with one to four symptoms, 1,300 had a stroke. Of the 6,282 people with no symptoms, 365 had a stroke. People with five to eight insomnia symptoms had a 51% increased risk. Of the 5,695 people with five to eight symptoms, 436 had a stroke.

The link between insomnia symptoms and stroke was more substantial in participants under age 50, with those who experienced five to eight symptoms having nearly four times the risk of stroke compared to people with no symptoms. Of the 458 people under age 50 with five to eight signs, 27 had a stroke.

People aged 50 or older with the same number of symptoms had a 38% increased stroke risk compared to those without. Of the 654 people 50 and over with five to eight symptoms, 33 had a stroke.

“This difference in risk between these two age groups may be explained by the higher occurrence of a stroke at an older age,” Sawadogo added. “The list of stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes can grow as people age, making insomnia symptoms one of many possible factors.

This striking difference suggests that managing insomnia symptoms at a younger age may be an effective strategy for stroke prevention. Future research should explore reducing stroke risk through managing sleeping problems.”

This association increased further for people with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and depression.


Photograph: nualaimages/Envato
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