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Sleep and Self-Care Can Reduce Stroke Risk

December 17, 2016

We all understand the health benefits of a good night’s rest, from improving memory to giving you more energy and boosting your mood.

But a new study suggests that sleep also could play a role in reducing your risk for stroke.

Researchers reviewed data from more than 289,000 adults who took part in a health survey and used a computer algorithm to estimate how sleep and regular exercise affected a person’s risk for stroke. They found that people who regularly slept seven to eight hours a night were 25 percent less likely to have a stroke than people who regularly slept over or below those number of hours each night.

People who slept more than seven to eight hours had a 146 percent higher risk of stroke compared to everyone else in the study. Those who slept fewer than seven to eight hours had a 22 percent higher risk.

Researchers don’t yet understand the sleep-related factors that elevate stroke risk, only that there’s some connection between the amount you sleep and the likelihood you’ll have a stroke. However, so-called “long sleepers” could have an increased stroke risk because they are more sedentary — if you are sleeping for more than one-third of your waking hours, you likely aren’t active or getting enough exercise.

The study is interesting because we’ve often focused on the importance of diet and exercise when it comes to stroke and other health risks. However, these findings illustrate that sleep may be just as critical to avoiding this condition. Sleep is connected to blood pressure. When you rest, your body has the opportunity to reset, allowing your vital organs to do less work and for your blood pressure to lower.

Researchers found that people who regularly got seven to eight hours of sleep, along with 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise up to six times a week, had the lowest stroke risk. Less than 1.2 percent of adults in this category had a stroke.

Stroke affects more than 795,000 people every year, and while the disease is commonly associated with age (the majority of stroke victims are 65 or older), 10 percent of stroke cases occur in people under age 50. No matter what your age, focus on doing things that will reduce your stroke risk. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke, but changing your diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking can lower this risk. Because of this study, we know that sleep may be beneficial, too, so focus on self-care, eating well and getting enough rest. It could save your life.