Most people sleep seven or eight hours a night. That means we sleep one-third of the time. However, half of all strokes occur when we are sleeping. This means more than a fair share of strokes happen when we sleep. The chance of stroke is higher when we sleep. This does not mean you should sleep less. Sleeping less will not prevent strokes.

Everyone has a small chance of having a stroke. Some people have two or three times this chance for a stroke. This increased risk occurs in people with high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder which affects up to 30 out of 100 adults. These people stop breathing in their sleep. Oxygen levels in the blood go down. Blood pressure goes up. Heart rate increases. Sleep is disturbed. This happens many, many times every hour. The person wakes in the morning unrested because sleep was disturbed. They are sleepy in the daytime.

How does one lower the chance of stroke? Everyone knows some of the answers. Lower blood pressure. Lower cholesterol. Stop smoking. Treat diabetes. Also lose weight and exercise. Just as important, treat sleep apnea.

After a stroke, a person who never had sleep apnea may get it in the future. Some types of strokes make the risk of sleep apnea even higher. Strokes by themselves cause the person to be disabled. A person with both sleep apnea and stroke will be sicker and more likely to die than a person with only a stroke. Treating the sleep apnea will improve the person’s health.

People with stroke or mini-stroke (transient ischemic attacks – TIA) should see their doctor about their sleep. The most common symptom is daytime sleepiness or having unrefreshed sleep. Snoring and breath holding is a common sign of sleep apnea. Other signs include choking, coughing, restlessness and headaches. Treatment of sleep apnea will result in improved sleep, increased energy, and possibly lower blood pressure.