Stroke risk quadrupled for healthy adults who sleep less than 6 hours
Losing sleep may have worse side effects than just a foggy head in the morning. A new study finds that regularly getting less than six hours of sleep significantly increases the risk of stroke symptoms for otherwise healthy middle-aged adults.
The study is the first to link poor sleep habits with stroke symptoms, and was presented today in Boston at SLEEP 2012, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
"People know how important diet and exercise are in preventing strokes," says lead author Megan Ruiter of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, according to USA Today. "The public is less aware of the impact of insufficient amounts of sleep. Sleep is important - the body is stressed when it doesn't get the right amount."
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The study took place over three years and collected data from 5,666 participants with no history of stroke. In participants with a body mass index of 18.5 to nearly 25 - the range considered normal - those who reported sleeping less than six hours a night were at nearly 4.5 times greater risk of developing stroke symptoms than those who slept seven or eight hours a night.
Strangely, they didn't find the same correlation among overweight and obese participants.
"We speculate that short sleep duration is a precursor to other traditional stroke risk factors, and once these traditional stroke risk factors are present, then perhaps they become stronger risk factors than sleep duration alone," Ruiter said.
Chronic sleep deprivation can cause changes in the body's functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, inflammation and glucose levels, Phyllis C. Zee, associate director for Sleep & Circadian Biology at the Northwestern University School of Medicine told MSNBC.
"It not only affects the blood vessels to the heart and body, but also to the brain," said Zee, who was not involved in the study.
Though these early symptoms may not lead to stroke, they could put the 30 percent of working adults who routinely sleep less than six hours a night at risk. They also may lead the way to sleep-related preventative treatment for stroke, said Ruiter.
"The really important take-home message is this: Don't blow it off. Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise," she told MSNBC.
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