Sleep and Brain Health

Stroke Risk Tied to Sleep Problems

Most of us know that too little sleep can cause all kinds of brain-related issues, including impaired focus, memory, and decision-making. But a new study has found that both too little sleep and too much sleep can increase your risk of stroke.

The Study

A team of researchers from the University of Galway in Ireland set out to better understand how sleep problems may affect the incidence of acute stroke.

They looked at data from three groups, all of whom had an average age of 62, including:

• 1,799 people who had experienced the most common type of stroke (ischemic), in which a blood clot blocks or narrows an artery leading to the brain

• 439 people who experienced bleeding in brain tissue (intracerebral hemorrhage or ICH)

• 4,496 people who served as the control group (matched for sex and age)

The participants in the first two groups were asked about sleep duration and quality in the month before their stroke.

The Findings

The researchers discovered that several sleep problems were linked to an increased incidence of stroke, including:

• Participants who indicated that they slept fewer than 5 hours/night were 3 times more likely to experience a stroke compared to those who slept for 7 hours.

• Participants who indicated they slept more than 9 hours/night were 2 times as likely to experience a stroke compared to those who slept for 7 hours.

• Participants with sleep apnea had 3 times the risk for stroke.

• Napping for an hour or more was linked to an 88% higher stroke risk (compared to no napping).

• Participants who snored were 91% more likely to have a stroke (compared to those who didn’t snore).

• Participants who snorted (made a sudden sound through their nose) were almost three times more likely to have a stroke (compared to those who didn’t snort).

• Having more sleep problems was linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing a stroke or ICH.

“Not only do our results suggest that individual sleep problems may increase a person’s risk of stroke,” says lead study author Dr. Christine McCarthy, “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.”

Limitations to the Study

It’s important to realize that this study used data from self-reported sleep problems, which could be inaccurate or biased. Likewise, the linked findings aren’t necessarily from direct cause and effect. So, while individuals with sleep problems may be more likely to have a stroke, the poor sleep may not be the cause of the stroke.

The results were published in the April 5, 2023 edition of the journal Neurology.


Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.

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