Insomnia May Raise Stroke Risk

Researchers in Taiwan found strongest connection among people younger than 34

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"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 behavioral issue, insomnia, has all these multiple factors associated with it that lead to an increased risk of stroke."

But does insomnia increase these other risk factors, or does an unhealthy lifestyle that increases a person's stroke risk also cause them to suffer insomnia?

It's likely a little of both, said Dr. Mark Urman, an attending cardiologist at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, in Los Angeles.

"It becomes a vicious cycle," Urman said. "When you aren't getting a good night's sleep again and again, it can contribute to other risk factors like blood glucose levels and high blood pressure." Those factors, in turn, promote further insomnia.

On the other hand, regular healthy sleep can be a boon to a person's health, Rush University's Lopes said. Sleep helps the body coordinate blood pressure, manage hormones and reduce stress, he noted.

"I think sleep is underrated in terms of its power, in how much healing occurs while you are sleeping," Lopes said.

One thing is clear from the study -- young adults are not as invincible as they might believe themselves to be, experts agreed. Late nights studying or partying could leave them at higher risk of being hospitalized for a stroke.

"No one gets a pass," Lenox Hill's Steinbaum said. "How we live our whole lives affects our cardiovascular health. It doesn't just start at age 50 or 60. It starts from the beginning of your life."

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SOURCES: Demetrius Lopes, M.D., director, Interventional Cerebrovascular Center, Rush University, Chicago, and spokesman, American Heart Association; Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., preventive cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Mark Urman, M.D., attending cardiologist, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles; May 2014 Stroke

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