Stroke risk under 40: Why sleep is key to your health

June 13, 2014 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn
Insomnia can raise the risk of stroke among young adults.

The risk factors for stroke can generally be divided into two groups—those you can control and those you can’t. Within the latter group is age, with the risk of stroke particularly pronounced for those older than 55. Stroke is usually not observed among younger people, but according to a new study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, insomnia can significantly increase this risk for individuals ages 18 to 34.

This underscores the importance of addressing your sleep patterns as part of an overall wellness regimen to prevent stroke or other serious cardiovascular events, no matter your age.

Risk increases by 8 times
To investigate the link between sleep patterns and stroke, a team of scientists from Taiwan reviewed the medical records of more than 21,000 individuals who were diagnosed with insomnia and compared them to those of more than 64,000 patients with normal sleep patterns. For the purposes of the study, insomnia was characterized as difficulty initiating or sustaining sleep, with chronic insomnia defined as lasting one to six months.

Data analysis revealed that, during the study period, insomnia raised the risk of being hospitalized for a stroke by 54 percent. Also, risk of stroke was highest among insomnia patients ages 18 to 34, with an incidence that was eight times higher than the baseline level. The relationship between stroke and insomnia grows weaker starting at the age of 35.

It is not entirely clear how insomnia raises the risk of stroke, but the researchers noted that insomnia can promote inflammation, negatively impact glucose tolerance, make the sympathetic nervous system overactive and raise the blood pressure. Also, it is possible that insomnia patients are likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as poor stress management, excess alcohol consumption, tobacco use, bad eating habits and lack of physical activity.

Address your sleep problems to protect your health
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have insomnia. A medical professional can work with you to figure out the possible cause of your insomnia and how to best address it.

There are several potential remedies for insomnia, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

  • Avoid stimulants, such as nicotine or caffeine, for at least eight hours before bedtime.
  • Do not drink alcohol before going to bed because it can prevent you from entering the deeper, more restful stages of sleep.
  • Do not exercise within five to six hours of bedtime.
  • Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine, which may include taking a warm bath, reading or listening to calming music.
  • Create a restful sleeping environment that is cool and dark. Make sure there are no televisions or computers in the room to distract you.

Still, it is important to remember that insomnia is only one risk factor tied to stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, controllable risk factors for stroke include hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and alcohol and tobacco use. Your health advisor can help you create a personalized plan and connect you with appropriate specialists to address your specific risk factors.