Sleep problems -- from snoring to sleeping too much or too little -- may be associated with elevated stroke risk, researchers say.
Snorting during sleep, having poor quality of sleep and sleep apnea may also be linked with greater risk of stroke, according to study findings published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology.
"Not only do our results suggest that individual sleep problems may increase a person's risk of stroke, but having more than five of these symptoms may lead to five times the risk of stroke compared to those who do not have any sleep problems," said study author Dr. Christine McCarthy, of University of Galway in Ireland.
"Our results suggest that sleep problems should be an area of focus for stroke prevention," McCarthy said in a journal news release.
For the study, the researchers looked at nearly 4,500 people, including more than 2,200 stroke survivors. They were matched with more than 2,200 people who did not have a stroke.
Participants were an average age of 62. They were asked about their sleep behaviors, including napping and breathing problems during sleep.
A total of 162 of those who had a stroke got less than five hours of nightly sleep, compared to 43 of those who did not have a stroke. Those with less than five hours of sleep were three times more likely to have a stroke than those who got an average seven hours of sleep, the investigators found.
Another 151 stroke survivors got more than nine hours of sleep a night, compared to 84 of those who did not have a stroke. The long sleepers were twice as likely to have a stroke as those who got seven hours of sleep.
In addition, people who took naps longer than one hour were 88% more likely to have a stroke than those who did not, the study found.
The researchers also reported that people who snore during sleep are 91% more likely to have a stroke than those who do not. Those who snort are nearly three times more likely to have a stroke than those who do not. Participants with sleep apnea are nearly three times more likely to have a stroke than those without breathing disruptions during sleep.
The study adjusted for other factors that affect stroke risk - including smoking, physical activity, depression and alcohol consumption - but got similar results. However, it cannot prove a cause and effect relationship, only an association.
Still, "with these results, doctors could have earlier conversations with people who are having sleep problems," McCarthy said. "Interventions to improve sleep may also reduce the risk of stroke and should be the subject of future research."
Limitations of the study include that people reported their own symptoms of sleep problems.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on stroke risk.
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