Sleep Disorders

Updated 11 August 2014

Young adult insomniacs at higher risk for stroke

Researchers found that insomnia seemed to raise the likelihood that a person will be hospitalised due to stroke by 54%, especially if they were young adults.


People plagued with insomnia might have an increased risk of stroke, particularly if they are young adults, a new, large study from Taiwan suggests.

Over the course of four years, researchers found that insomnia seemed to raise the likelihood that a person will be hospitalised due to stroke by 54%.

That risk skyrocketed for people between the ages of 18 and 34, who were eight times more likely to suffer strokes if they had insomnia when compared to their peers who got good sleep, the study found.

Known risk factors

"We pay a lot of attention to high blood pressure, to obesity, to issues related to cholesterol. Those are known risk factors," said Dr Demetrius Lopes, director of the Interventional Cerebrovascular Centre at Rush University in Chicago and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Read: 6 ways to prevent insomnia

"But I think what is underrated is if you don't have a good sleep routine, how much it can harm you, especially at a young age.

The new study compared randomly selected health records of more than 21 000 people with insomnia and 64 000 without insomnia in Taiwan. None had a previous diagnosis of stroke or sleep apnoea.

The findings were published in the May issue of the journal Stroke.

During the four-year follow-up, 583 insomniacs and 962 non-insomniacs were admitted to a hospital for stroke. After accounting for other factors, the researchers concluded that the people with insomnia had an increased stroke risk compared with those who slept well.

Researcher Ya-Wen Hsu, at Chia Nan University, and colleagues also found that the amount of insomnia a person suffers had a direct bearing on their apparent stroke risk.

Insomnia tied to stroke risk

People who suffered persistent insomnia had a higher risk of stroke than people with intermittent insomnia, and both groups were at greater risk than people whose insomnia stopped during the study.

Insomniacs also tended to suffer more from risk factors that can lead to stroke, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

While the study found an association between insomnia and higher stroke risk, it didn't prove cause-and-effect.

"We've seen that people who have sleep issues have other health factors that increase their risk for stroke," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. "This one behavioural issue, insomnia, has all these multiple factors associated with it that lead to an increased risk of stroke."

Read more:

Is insomnia what you have?
Insomnia: causes and prevention

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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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