Study Finds Extra Sleep May Increase Risk of Stroke

A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology last month has revealed that individuals who sleep more than eight hours a day are at an increased risk of having a stroke. 

A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident, is a decrease in blood flow to the brain that results in cell death. Strokes may be caused by an obstruction of blood flow or the rupture of an artery. 

It is no secret that college students are always seeking sleep; therefore, this study is particularly prevalent to students. 

Having to deal with a plethora of responsibilities, students often sleep only a few hours a day and struggle to stay awake in class. 

Sharon Stark, Coordinator of Monmouth University’s Forensic Nursing Program, said that college students do not sleep enough and it can have serious consequences.“It is obvious college students lack sleep as I have often seen students try to take naps during the day, sometimes during classes, to catch up on sleep,” said Stark.  

A study titled “Significant sleep deprivation and stress among college students, USA,” published in stated that a consistent lack of sleep in college can result in missed classes, poor classroom performance, difficulty concentrating, hallucinations, mental health issues, declines in blood glucose metabolism, blood pressure control, and a myriad of other health concerns. 

Many times weekends are used to catch up on sleep,” said Janet Mahoney, Dean and professor of nursing. “One has to wonder what is the recommended amount of sleep needed to live a healthy life,” said Mahoney. “Further studies are needed. Until we know more, moderation is the answer, not too little sleep, not too much sleep,” she said. 

In a New York Times article published in March 2015, titled “Extra Sleep Linked With Stroke Risk,” researchers surveyed people and recorded their sleeping habits over a period of ten years. 

Yue Leng, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge, headed the operation. Leng and associates pooled people, aged 42-81 who had never experienced a stroke before. 

The study monitored the amount of hours that the subjects slept at the beginning of the study and how much nightly sleep they were getting four years later. Over the decade-long study, 346 of the subjects suffered strokes as the number of hours they slept decreased over the years. 

After controlling a number of health and behavioral variables that could skew the data, the researchers concluded that people who slept more than eight hours a day were 46 percent more likely to experience a stroke than those who slept for six to eight hours.

Additionally, the study concluded that the risk of a stroke was higher in individuals that reported their need for sleep had increased over the decade. Leng inferred that this could be an indication that there is a brain condition that leads to strokes of which an excessive need for sleep is an early symptom. 

Caroline Shanahan, a freshman nursing student, said that the study was eye-opening and changed her opinion on the benefits of sleeping excessively.

“When I get less sleep, I tend to be more energized and awake, but when I oversleep, I feel more tired and sluggish,” said Shanahan. “I learned in anatomy that blood supply to the brain is crucial and learning that oversleeping can decrease the amount of blood in the brain makes me think twice about sleeping in,” she said.

Since most of the data was self reported, meaning that the test subjects recorded their personal data and conveyed it to the researchers, some aspects may be unreliable. Also, the researchers noted that excessive sleep is not a direct cause of a stroke, but rather an early sign. Thus, it may indicate a brain condition that can lead to a stroke, but is not the direct cause of a stroke.

Stark said that one should not make hasty conclusions from the article without first viewing the full report.“The data on sleep duration were self-reports, which can be unreliable,” said Stark. 

“The association was made between sleep and stroke risk, instead of cause and effect; the reported increased sleeping time as the cause of a stroke, could instead, be an early symptom of a disease that led to a stroke,” she said. 

In studies in which the subjects report their own data, they may tamper with the results to make them more desirable. For example, one of the subjects could have lessened the hours of sleep received each night to make themselves appear healthier.

Mahoney said that the distinction between excessive sleep preceding strokes as opposed to causing strokes is important to note.

“The important thing to take away from this study is that this is only one study and further targeted research using experimental designs in clinical areas are needed in the future,” she said.

“This study suggests that sleeping more may be an early symptom of disease that may lead to stroke,” said Mahoney.

 “Keep in mind that this prospective meta-analysis research study showed an ‘association’ of more sleep and stroke risk. It did not say that too much sleep ‘causes’ strokes. Short sleep was defined as less than six hours and long sleep was defined greater than eight hours.” “The lead author of the research project suggests that there may be something happening in the brain that precedes stroke risk of which excessive sleep may be an early indicator,” said Mahoney.