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How not getting enough sleep could increase your stroke risk

By the time you flop into bed, you’ve worked an eight-hour day, chauffeured the kids around to their after-school activities and cooked dinner for the family. Now, all you want is to catch the latest Netflix hit while you scroll through TikTok and finish off that pint of mint chocolate chip in the fridge.

While enjoying some entertainment and a snack may feel like unwinding, your body may be begging for the real rest you get with a good night’s sleep.

“Our society doesn’t emphasize sleep,” said Carl D. Boethel, MD, Director, Sleep Institute at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Temple. “We sacrifice it for so many other things, usually entertainment. Yes, we need entertainment during the day, but sleep is vital. There’s a reason why we do it.”

Numerous studies have shown both sleep deprivation and sleeping and napping for a long time (more than nine hours sleeping and 90 minutes midday napping) can raise your risk for stroke and other health problems.

What is the link between sleep and stroke risk?

“There are a lot of factors that could be playing a role,” Dr. Boethel said. “One is that sleep deprivation puts the body into an inflammation state.”

Inflammation can come from increased cortisol—a stress hormone—that changes when you’re sleep-deprived. The inflammation raises your risk for arterial hypertension, heart disease and stroke.

Meager sleep also increases heart rate and blood pressure, putting you at even higher risk for stroke.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is an essential function to restore your brain and your body. Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery, Dr. Boethel said.

One theory suggests that growth hormone plays a role and sleep is affected by it.

“When we first fall asleep, we secrete growth hormone,” Dr. Boethel said. “As children, this hormone is extremely important for cell division and development. But it is thought that the hormone also plays a role even when we get older in maintaining body homeostasis—maintaining mineral density, cholesterol levels and metabolism.”

How can we lower our stroke risk?

“You should be going to bed at a decent hour and getting at least seven to seven-and-a-half hours of sleep a night,” Dr. Boethel said.

High-quality sleep habits start with turning off the TV and putting up your phone, computer and other electronic devices. Other tips for a good night’s rest include:

  • Sleep in a dark room that is quiet and comfortable.
  • Lower the thermostat. Warmer temperatures prevent you from resting adequately.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day—no soda, tea or coffee late at night.
  • Kick the late-night snacking habit. Your kitchen should be closed by 7 p.m. Eating late at night disturbs sleep because your body is trying to digest food.

“We don’t completely understand sleep, but we know that bad things can happen to you if you don’t sleep,” Dr. Boethel said. “If you don’t want those bad things happening to you, then you need to get better rest.”

Strokes can target anyone. Assess your risk by taking this quiz.

How not getting enough sleep could increase your stroke risk