A new University of Ottawa study investigating the connections between stroke and sleep found that nearly two-thirds of those with stroke in Canada showed symptoms of disturbed sleep

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the population-based study also found that people living with the effects of stroke were up to seven times more likely to report multiple sleep problems compared to the general population.

That’s significant because the current guidelines for stroke care by the Canadian Stroke Best Practices only briefly mention sleep problems in the context of post-stroke fatigue, according to a press release by University of Ottawa. 

So what might family physicians and stroke specialists glean from this study moving forward?

First author Matthew Jeffers, a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine’s School of Epidemiology and Public Health, says greater awareness, guidance for treatment, and research on how to manage sleep problems in the context of stroke is needed considering that these disturbances affect the majority of those with stroke across Canada.

First author Matthew Jeffers is a PhD student in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine’s School of Epidemiology and Public Health. 
Photo credit: Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa

“Our overall goal for practitioners in the primary care setting is to increase their awareness of the high number of stroke patients with sleep disturbance symptoms. Given how common this is, it may be worthwhile for physicians to consider screening for underlying sleep disorders in patients with stroke,” says Jeffers in a press release.

For the study, the research team employed various statistical techniques for a cross-sectional analysis of the Canadian Community Health Survey, a large and comprehensive national survey on people’s health status and the determinants of health. This gave them a better picture of how common sleep problems are in stroke across the Canadian population than previous studies, which typically have small sample sizes, according to the release.

Jeffers suggests that further research will be necessary to study groups of patients in sleep labs to get a more thorough and objective understanding of the relationship between stroke and specific types of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia.

The dynamics between stroke and sleep—measured in both quantity and quality—are complex. Research has broadly shown that either sleep deprivation or sleeping for longer than nine hours a day can increase the risk of having a stroke. Having a stroke can also cause changes in sleeping patterns.

Given the impact of stroke on global public health, better understanding its connections with sleep disturbances is important, according to the release. 

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