For Seniors, Poor Sleep May Mean Higher Stroke Risk

For Seniors, Poor Sleep May Mean Higher Stroke Risk

Researchers found those who woke up the most were more likely to have hardening of brain arteries

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 14, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Poor sleep may raise seniors' risk of hardening of the brain arteries, and possibly contribute to the chances of a stroke, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined the autopsied brains of 315 people, average age 90, who had undergone at least one full week of sleep quality assessment before their death. Twenty-nine percent of them had suffered a stroke, and 61 percent had moderate-to-severe damage to blood vessels in the brain.

Those with the highest levels of sleep fragmentation — repeated awakenings or arousals — were 27 percent more likely to have hardening of the brain arteries. Among study participants, sleep was disrupted an average of nearly seven times an hour.

For each additional two arousals during one hour of sleep, there was a 30 percent greater likelihood of having visible signs of oxygen deprivation in the brain, the study authors said.

However, the study was not designed to prove a cause-and-effect link between poor sleep and stroke risk.

The findings were independent of other stroke and heart disease risk factors, such as weight, diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure, as well as other health conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, depression, heart failure and pain, according to the study published Jan. 14 in the journal Stroke.

"The forms of brain injury that we observed are important because they may not only contribute to the risk of stroke but also to chronic progressive cognitive and motor impairment," lead investigator Dr. Andrew Lim, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Toronto, said in a journal news release.

"However, there are several ways to view these findings: sleep fragmentation may impair the circulation of blood to the brain, poor circulation of blood to the brain may cause sleep fragmentation, or both may be caused by another underlying risk factor," said Lim, who is also a neurologist and scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto.

While the findings suggest that sleep monitoring could help identify seniors at risk for stroke, further research is needed to clarify a number of areas.

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