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Poor Sleeping Patterns in Seniors linked to an Increased Risk of Stroke

Update Date: Jan 15, 2016 11:30 AM EST

Seniors who want to reduce their risk of stroke should focus on getting a good night's sleep everyday, a new study reported.

For this study, the team analyzed the brains of 315 deceased seniors to see if sleep affected brain health. The participants had an average age of 90 and 70 percent of them were women.

29 percent of them had suffered from a stroke and 61 percent had experienced moderate-to-severe damage in their brain's blood vessels. Before the seniors died, they had all participated in a study that assessed their quality of sleep. The assessment had lasted at least one entire week.

The team found that seniors who had the highest levels of sleep fragmentations, which meant that they tended to wake up an average of seven times throughout the night, were 27 percent more likely to have evidence of hardening in their brain arteries, which can increase their risk of stroke.

More specifically, the researchers reported that every two extra arousals within one hour of sleep were tied to a 30 percent increased chance that the brain showed signs of oxygen deprivation.

"The forms of brain injury that we observed are important because they may not only contribute to the risk of stroke but also to chronic progressive cognitive and motor impairment," lead investigator Dr. Andrew Lim, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Toronto, said in a journal news release reported by HealthDay via WebMD. "However, there are several ways to view these findings: sleep fragmentation may impair the circulation of blood to the brain, poor circulation of blood to the brain may cause sleep fragmentation, or both may be caused by another underlying risk factor."

The researchers noted that although they did not find a cause-and-effect relationship, seniors could benefit from improved sleep.

"Sleep, to some degree, is within our control and we should all make attempts to improve the quality of our sleep," Dr. Richard Libman, who was not a part of the study, commented.

Lim added, "I think the take-home point is that this is another reason why people ought to take care of their sleep as they get older."

The study was published in the journal, Stroke.

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