Harvard Women's Health Watch

In the journals: Sleep duration affects stroke risk in postmenopausal women

In the journals

Sleep duration affects stroke risk in postmenopausal women

It's well known that lack of sleep can adversely affect physical and mental health. But more isn't necessarily better when it comes to getting your z's. According to research that will be published in the December 2008 issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, and which appeared online July 17, 2008, sleeping either too much or too little increases the risk of ischemic stroke in postmenopausal women. Ischemic stroke — the most common type of stroke and a leading cause of disability in the United States — occurs when some obstruction (typically, a blood clot) cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.

The Stroke study draws on data from the seven-year Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, which investigated the role of genes, biology, and lifestyle on older women's risk for major health problems. The study involved 93,175 women, ages 50 to 79. The investigators found that women who slept nine hours or more per night were 60% to 70% more likely to suffer an ischemic stroke, compared with women who averaged seven hours per night.

But "long sleepers" weren't the only ones who had trouble: those sleeping six hours or less were 14% more likely to suffer a stroke. That may sound less serious, but there were twice as many "short sleepers" as "long sleepers" among the women in the study. The authors speculated that sleeping too little might have a greater impact on postmenopausal women's health than sleeping too much.

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