Every year, thousands of people suffer the pain and anguish of a stroke. It is life-changing for patients and their families. Due to a number of factors, the numbers are increasing and as the average age of the population increases, the instances of stroke are expected to increase further. There are few treatments and no cure for the neurological damage that a stroke can cause. However, one study has shown that sleep may be beneficial in the long-term for recovery from some strokes.
What is a Stroke?
Stroke occurs when the bloody supply to the brain is cut off. Should anyone suffer a stroke, they must be rushed to hospital – it is a medical emergency and a life-threatening condition in most cases. The sooner they can receive medical intervention, the less likely that permanent damage will occur. Brain injury may occur and some form of disability is likely in most cases.
It is the third largest cause of death in the UK but most patients survive with brain damage. It is this high likelihood of brain damage and disability that around one third of patients will end up with a permanent disability following a stroke. For a tenth of all patients, disability will be so severe that they will require permanent care in a nursing home. Taking the most recent NHS figures, around 110,000 people will have a stroke every year. That means around 11,000 will require a place in a nursing home for permanent medical care.
The Link between Sleep and Stroke
It has long been known that poor sleep patterns can affect our health, including impacting our chances of stroke. The heaviest snorers and those who seemingly have breathing problems while they sleep are at the highest risk of having a stroke and cardiovascular problems. It is even higher for those who stop breathing while they sleep. For some, it is anything between five and thirty times per hour and this is not good for the body.
We call this ‘Sleep Apnoea’ and it can be an indicator of medical problems such as impending stroke. It affects men more often than it affects women. Weight or pressure on the upper chest restricts the flow of air to the lungs and consequently, blood to the brain. Now, it seems that new research shows that good sleep and promotion of the right sleep could help stroke patient recovery.
New Research into Sleep and Stroke Links
We all know about the benefits of sleep. It is good for our physical health and mental health. It is good for our day to day functioning. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are irritable and cannot concentrate. These facts are well-known. What hasn’t been fully understood until now is how important sleep is to stroke rehabilitation.
The study showed that stroke patients take longer to fall asleep than the general population. The amount of time they spend in deep sleep is also much shorter than most people. Their quality and quantity of sleep is much lower, and that is bad for recovery from any illness.
Further, poor sleep makes falling more likely due to fatigue. It also makes us prone to further illnesses. The potential for stroke recovery is poor then, even before we look at direct research between quality and quantity of sleep and stroke instances. What this new research shows, and it is tentative at present until the results can be confirmed, is that sleep can be beneficial to recovery. It is yet to be put into practice in a clinical situation, but with recent developments in neurorehabilitation, the next couple of years could be quite interesting.