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Stroke Risk and Sleep: Enough is Just Enough

Too Much OR Too Little Can Raise Your Risk

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Updated July 29, 2008

Stroke Risk and Sleep: Enough is Just Enough

Are you getting the right amount of sleep?

Photo: Rob Melnychuk / Getty Images

Stroke risk and sleep are related, but more sleep at night is not necessarily better. There are many reasons for menopausal women to get the right amount of regular sleep, and researchers are once again adding stroke risk to that list. In a study reported by HealthDay of over 93,000 postmenopausal women, those sleeping too much or too little had significantly higher risk of having a stroke. The study was published online in the medical journal Stroke, from the American Heart Association.

Who should worry?

Sleeping too much seems to be more of a danger sign than sleeping too little, but both are risk factors. Women who slept more than nine hours a night were a whopping 60% to 70% more likely to suffer a stroke than women who slept about seven hours a night. Those who usually slept six or fewer hours a night were 14% more likely to have a stroke. Extended sleep has long been associated with an increased risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, according to Jiu-Chiuan Chen, MD, MPH, the lead investigator. This study confirms that connection.

How Much is Enough?

Everyone is a little different when it comes to sleep requirements. But the research is pretty clear that if you are sleeping more than nine hours, or less than six, you should pay attention. You need sleep to reset your body’s clock, hormones, psyche and cells. Sleep is when your body repairs itself and when it re-regulates hormones. Like Goldilocks, your body doesn’t do well with too much or too little, but with the amount that is “just right.”

What’s Going On?

There are many theories about how sleep affects your cardiovascular system. If you are sleeping too little, you may be interfering with your body’s ability to produce hormones and heal, and too little sleep results in producing stress hormones such as cortisol which can damage your health over time. If you are sleeping too much, chances are that’s your body’s way of telling you that the quality of your sleep isn’t cutting it. When sleep is not restorative due to sleep apnea, too much light, drug use (alcohol and caffeine among others) or life’s anxieties you will be sleepy during the day and will never feel truly rested. Therefore, more is not better when it comes to sleep. High quality, restorative sleep is the goal.

What Should You Do?

If you are getting too little or too much sleep, realize that it could affect your heart and cardiovascular system over time. Think about:

  • If you have menopause symptoms that disrupt your sleep (such as night sweats, anxiety or unexplained waking), talk to your doctor about possible treatments that will restore your sleep cycle.
  • Checking with a doctor or sleep disorder clinic if you snore or are sleepy during the day in case sleep apnea is developing
  • Getting serious about stress management, including relaxation techniques, diet changes and meditation
  • Cutting down on chemicals and drugs that could be disrupting your sleep, especially caffeine, diet pills, antidepressants and other medications that have a stimulant effect.
  • Get your blood pressure checked regularly to catch any rises early while they are most treatable

Your sleep cycle is a marker for what’s going on in your life. It’s a message to you about what you need. Instead of thinking of it as beauty sleep we should see it as body sleep –- it does a body good.

Sources:

Jiu-Chiuan Chen, JC, Brunner, RL, Ren, H, Wassertheil-Smoller, S, Larson, JC, Levine, DW, Allison, M, Naughton, MJ, Stefanick, ML. “Sleep Duration and Risk of Ischemic Stroke in Postmenopausal Women,” Stroke.2008; 0: STROKEAHA.108.521773v1 as reported in HealthDay, Retrieved July 21, 2008.

Northrup, Christiane, The Wisdom of Menopause, Bantam Dell, Random Books, New York, NY, 2006.

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