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Not getting enough sleep could lead to stroke risk, other health problems

By the time you flop into bed, you’ve worked an eight-hour day, chauffeured the kids around to various activities and cooked or, let’s face it, picked up dinner. Now, all you want to do is watch some TV that doesn’t feature a singing cartoon character and finish off that pint of mint chocolate chip you’ve been hiding in the freezer.

While enjoying some entertainment and a snack feels like a mini vacation, your body may be begging for real rest in the form of 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 very vital. There’s a reason why we do it.”

And according to a new study, being sleep deprived could put you at risk for having a stroke.

Why would there be a link between lack of 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.”

The inflammation can come from an increase of the hormone cortisol—a stress hormone—that changes when you’re sleep deprived.

“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.”

“The inflammation puts you more at risk for arterial hypertension, heart disease and of course, stroke,” he said.

And when you haven’t had enough sleep, you can also develop an increased heart rate and a higher blood pressure, which can put you at a higher risk for stroke.

Why is sleep so important?

While many theories exist, Dr. Boethel said no one really knows why we sleep or why our bodies don’t function properly when we don’t get enough.

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

“When we first fall asleep, we secrete growth hormone,” he said. “When we’re children, [growth 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.”

If we don’t get enough sleep, then you don’t secrete enough growth hormone.

What should we be doing to get more rest and avoid stroke risk?

“Patients should be going to bed at a decent hour,” he said. “They should be getting at least seven to seven and a half hours of sleep a night.”

The best way to do that, according to Dr. Boethel, is to turn off the TV, computer and other electronic devices.

Here are a few other suggestions for getting a good night’s rest.

  • Sleep in a dark room that is quiet and comfortable.
  • Sleep in a room that has a cooler temperature. Warmer temperatures will prevent you from resting adequately.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day – no cokes, tea or coffee late at night.
  • Avoid late-night snacking – 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 do know that if you don’t sleep, bad things can happen to you,” 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.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Not getting enough sleep could lead to stroke risk, other health problems