Two studies have proven the connection between sleep and stroke. The first, published in the Journal of Stroke in 2018, reveals that sleep issues like snoring and apnea can increase the risk for stroke, and the second, published in Scientific Reports, shows that people who’ve had a stroke sleep less efficiently. Both studies underscore the need for good, restorative sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle. Are you sleeping well enough?

Occasional snoring

Snoring happens when air being inhaled and exhaled creates noise as a result of friction. About half of all people snore at some time in their lives. For many, snoring is soft and infrequent, often the result of sleeping on your back or upright.

Snoring frequently and loudly

Deep or frequent snoring deprives the brain of adequate oxygen, which leads to hard-to-control increases in blood pressure. In fact, nearly 40 percent of adult men and almost a quarter of adult women snore every night—a sign they might have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is diagnosed as 5 or more episodes per night when breathing stops for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. It can be caused by an obstruction in the upper airway, such as the tongue or uvula blocking air, or by fatty areas in the neck placing pressure on the airway. It can also be caused by the misfire of brain signals, which send mixed messages to the body about proper breathing during sleep.

Treatment for sleep apnea can include:

  • A dental appliance to reposition the lower jaw and tongue
  • Surgery to remove excessive tissue in the airway
  • A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers just enough air pressure through a mask to keep your upper airway passages open

It’s estimated that 8 out of 10 people with any form of sleep apnea remain undiagnosed—and untreated.

Why snoring matters

Sleep apnea can cause a stroke, since low oxygen levels combine with high blood pressure or hypertension. Having a stroke while asleep is particularly dangerous because treatment is so time sensitive.

If you snore loudly or gasp for breath during the night while asleep, ask your primary care physician to refer you for a sleep study. Treating both, snoring and sleep apnea, can greatly reduce the risk of stroke, as well as improve your quality of life.

Quick Facts About Snoring and Sleep Apnea

  • Snoring is often the result of sleeping on our back or upright
  • About half of all people snore at some time in their lives
  • An estimated 80% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed
  • Snoring and sleep apnea can increase the risk for stroke
  • People who’ve had a stroke sleep less efficiently

Trouble sleeping after a stroke

Stroke patients have long complained about trouble sleeping. Now, a study shows that this might actually reduce stroke patients’ ability to recover and relearn key skills. On top of that, long-term insomnia can lead to depression.

Using a polysomnogram test, which measures the brain’s sleeping patterns, researchers found that it took stroke patients longer to fall asleep and that they had poorer sleep efficiency—a ratio of the time spent asleep compared to the time spent in bed—than those who had not experienced a stroke. The Scientific Reports study also showed that stroke patients were less likely to nap during the day to make up for lost sleep at night. The lack of sleep put stroke patients at a higher risk for another stroke, falls, recovery delays, and poorer overall health.

The good news

Since the Scientific Reports study looked at brain activity, it concluded that the stroke itself wasn’t causing sleep issues. Instead, psychological strain, pain and discomfort, and lack of physical activity are the culprits. Because these conditions are treatable, stroke patients can take steps to address the cause of their insomnia or sleep efficiency issues and get the sleep they need to stay healthy.

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