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How sleep plays into the preventable risk factors of stroke 

As one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide, someone around Australia experiences stroke for the first time every 19 minutes. Recent research indicates that more than 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Take a moment to let that percentage sink in as it really is an astounding figure.

While the risk of stroke is predominantly age-related, researchers have isolated ten factors that can be linked to over 90 percent of stroke episodes. These include a prolonged history of high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, elevated levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, poor diet, higher waist-to-hip ratio, stress, smoking, cardiac problems, high alcohol consumption and diabetes. As the majority of these factors are lifestyle related, it makes stroke a highly preventable disease irrespective of age or sex.

What role does sleep play in stroke prevention?

While it isn’t a direct risk factor, poor sleep quality has still been reported to play a role in the development of stroke and other cardiovascular disorders. Some of our body’s most important healing and repair work occurs while we sleep. So crucial to our health, even slight sleep deprivation or short episodes of poor quality of sleep can affect our mood, judgement and memory. In fact, one complete night of sleep deprivation can be as impairing in a simulated driving test as a legally intoxicating blood-alcohol level.

Sleep gives our brain, organs and cardiovascular system the opportunity to return to homeostasis – our body’s ideal state of equilibrium. Without the right amount, things can get out of balance very quickly. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to both high blood pressure and elevated stress hormones, two of the ten factors directly linked to increased stroke risk. High blood pressure is often the result of ongoing stress, highlighting a significant link between the two.

How do you improve your sleep?

Getting better quality sleep will usually come down to uncovering what is at the heart of your sleep challenges. There are numerous reasons why sleep may be elusive to you. Some of the most common reasons include elevated stress levels, sleeping on an old or uncomfortable mattress, back pain that wakes you up, drinking too much alcohol in the evening, having an uncomfortably full stomach, hormonal or nutritional imbalances and invasive worrying thoughts. If sleep has been challenging for you for some time, a helpful question to consider is when did you last sleep well? This can provide some valuable clues to help you get to the heart of the issue and work towards positively changing your sleep patterns.

Too much sleep as a stroke risk

There is also research to suggest that too much sleep can also increase your risk of stroke. Findings indicate that those who report sleeping for nine or more hours each night had a 23 percent higher risk of stroke than those sleeping less than eight hours. Daytime naps of 90 minutes or longer were also linked to a 25 percent higher stroke risk. It is important to note that these studies only found an association between longer sleep and stroke risk. This means it is more likely to indicate a link between longer sleep and other risk factors. For example, a sedentary lifestyle or conditions such as sleep apnea, both of which impact on the quality of sleep and lead to excessive daytime sleepiness.

At the end of the day, there is so much you can do to mitigate the risk of stroke and sleep is just one small part of it. If you have identified with any of the ten risk factors, we can’t encourage you enough to make changes to address them. After all, the quality of your life is just as important as the length of your life.

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