If you haven’t been getting a good night’s sleep, now’s the time to consider changing your habits. According to a recent study published in the journal Child Development, people who don't have sleep apnea but still get fewer than six hours of sleep a night may be more prone to getting a stroke. "There is evidence that insufficient sleep...increases all sorts of abnormal responses in the body," says lead researcher Megan Ruiter, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Medicine.

For the study, researchers collected data from more than 5,600 participants. Over a span of three years, they discovered that people of normal weight who slept for less than six hours a night increased their risk of stroke fourfold. Such an association, however, didn’t seem to show up in participants who were overweight.

At this point, it’s difficult to point out just what causes the risk in those of normal weight, but researchers speculate that the stress hormone cortisol has something to do with it. People who lack sleep may have higher levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, too much of the said hormone may cause a dysfunction in the cells responsible for protecting the blood vessels. This subsequently leads to stroke. Researchers say this may explain why some people who don’t usually fit the profile of stroke patients who still find themselves suffering from one anyway.

Whether you fit the bill or not, however, it’s important that you take measures to prevent yourself from getting a stroke. Try to get more than six hours of sleep every night. Watch your weight and exercise. Seeing your doctor regularly may also help keep stroke at bay.

(Photo by Michelle Rivera via Flickr Creative Commons)

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