Insomnia Might Increase Your Risk of Stroke

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
January 02, 2024
Insomnia Might Increase Your Risk of Stroke

People with insomnia who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep are more likely to have a stroke than people who sleep soundly. Here's what you should know.

Spending your nights tossing and turning could lead to more than just groggy days. People with insomnia who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep are more likely to have a stroke than sound sleepers, according to one study. The risk is highest in people under age 50.

The link between insomnia and heart problems is particularly worrisome, since one in four Americans don’t get the minimum seven hours of sleep recommended for optimum health.


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Higher insomnia scores are linked to greater stroke risk

The study, published in the journal Neurology, followed more than 31,000 people who were enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study for an average of nine years.

The average age of the participants was 61, and more than half were female. At the beginning of the study, none of them had suffered a stroke.

Researchers asked the participants four questions about their sleep patterns:

  • How often do you have trouble falling asleep?
  • How often do you wake up during the night?
  • How often do you wake up too early and have trouble falling back asleep?
  • How often do you feel rested in the morning?

Then they assigned participants a score of 1 to 4 or 5 to 8, based on their answers. The higher the score, the more severe the insomnia symptoms.

After adjusting for other factors that could increase the risk of a stroke, such as smoking, alcohol use, and a lack of exercise, the researchers found that people with a score of one to four insomnia symptoms had a 16 percent increased risk for stroke compared to those with no symptoms. People with five to eight insomnia symptoms had a 51 percent higher risk.

In real numbers:

  • 365 of 6,282 people with no symptoms had a stroke.
  • 1,300 of 19,149 people with one to four symptoms had a stroke.
  • 436 of 5,695 people with five to eight symptoms had a stroke.

People under age 50 with insomnia symptoms had a 38 percent increased risk compared to those in their age group with no insomnia symptoms.

It’s important to note that the study didn’t prove that insomnia causes strokes. Instead, it found an association between the two conditions.

The sleep-stroke connection

Sleep is important for maintaining heart health. During the non-rapid eye movement stages of sleep, your heart rate slows, and your blood pressure drops. This period of rest reduces the stress on your heart and allows it to recover after working all day.

When you don’t sleep enough, you don’t gain the restorative benefit to your heart. Chronic sleep deprivation has already been linked to many negative heart health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and death.

People who don’t get enough quality slumber because of a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea also have lower oxygen and blood flow to their brain. Over time, the reduction in blood flow could increase the risk for stroke.

What you can do

Treating insomnia is one way to improve your heart health and avoid a stroke. You can adopt healthier sleep habits, such as going to sleep at the same time each night and avoiding stimulants like nicotine and caffeine close to bedtime.

If lifestyle changes don’t help enough, you might try cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, a six- to eight-week treatment program that teaches you how to fall asleep faster and sleep for longer.

Several over-the-counter and prescription medicines can also treat insomnia. Because those medications can cause side effects, talk to your doctor about whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Other ways to reduce your risk of stroke include:

  • Lower your blood sugar level with diet, exercise, and medication if you have diabetes.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol use.
  • Reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels if they’re abnormal.


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January 02, 2024

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN