Ask The Doctor

Sleepless Nights Mean Increased Stroke Risk

Dear Dr. Garner,

I know that in previous columns you suggested getting eight hours of sleep per night was best.

However, it’s just impossible for me. I have three children, ages 10, eight and seven, who need constant help with homework and all the other things that young children need.

By the time I put them to sleep and do chores, it’s almost midnight.

I know that there are bad effects from not getting enough sleep. The problem is not that I have a hard time falling asleep; it’s finding the actual time to sleep.

Is there any way around this?

Sleepless in Sheepshead Bay


Dear Sleepless,

I was just talking about this topic with my good friends, Joyce Pisciotta and Vivian Boolbol.

You are not alone. About 30 percent of adults routinely sleep fewer than six hours a night. In a new study released last week, sleep-deprived adults are four times more likely to suffer a stroke. This applies even to adults who are physically fit and otherwise in good shape. I believe everyone knows how important it is to exercise and eat right. There is much less awareness of the impact of insufficient sleep.

The body becomes stressed when it doesn’t get the right amount of sleep. The number of adults sleeping eight hours a day has dropped from 38 percent in 2001 to 28 percent today. Previous studies have shown an increase in strokes for those who do not get sufficient sleep. The new study showed that even for someone in good shape with a normal weight, there is still a marked increase in strokes for people who don’t sleep enough.

Some of the effects of too little sleep are as follows:

  • Sleeplessness is responsible for about 100,000 auto crashes a year. The greatest number of people who have this type of sleep-related accident are under 25 years of age.
  • There are increased accidents at work in people who are sleep deprived.
  • Sleep plays an important role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these processes, and impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving.
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to a lower libido. Sleep-deprived men may also have lower testosterone which can exacerbate “loss of romance.”
  • Lack of sleep causes depression. In a recent study, people who slept fewer than six hours per night had increased episodes of depression.
  • Not sleeping enough can impair judgment. It is difficult to correctly interpret situations and reactions are often inappropriate.
  • Another side effect of losing sleep is gaining weight. People who sleep less than six hours a day are 30 percent more likely to be obese, than those who get nine hours or more.
  • Sleep deprivation impairs short-term memory.
  • Those who are sleep deprived find it hard to concentrate. Creativity and problem-solving skills deteriorate.
  • Sleep deprivation can make you moody.
  • Your immune system doesn’t work well when you’re sleep deprived. One can have increased colds and flu.
  • Lack of sleep raises the body’s insulin after eating which increases the risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted so it doesn’t perform as well. Thinking of sleep as a medication helps one realize how important it is, and how lack of sleep can leave your body vulnerable to infections, cardiovascular disease, decreased mental capacity and depression.

Your problem is one that many parents face. In taking care of their children, they often neglect their own health. It is important to take care of yourself so that you will be in condition to take care of your children.

Here are some tips that might help: take two or three 15-minute naps a day; organize your time and make lists to be more efficient; have family members help with chores; do not use the computer, watch TV, eat or exercise one hour prior to sleep.

I hope that you’re able to make some changes in your schedule, and make more time for yourself.

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.