You would never drive your car for thousands of miles without oil in the engine, but what about running your body without enough sleep? You may brush off the need for shut-eye, but habitual lack of sleep can harm the body in many ways, including increasing your risk of stroke symptoms.
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham followed over 5,000 middle-aged and older people for three years. During that time, they looked for early signs of stroke, things like difficulty walking or trouble speaking or understanding.
None of the people included in the study, which was presented at the SLEEP 2012 conference, had a previous history of stroke or stroke symptoms. They also had a low risk of obstructive sleep apnea. This condition, in which the airways become partially or completely blocked during sleep, has been linked to an increased risk of stroke.
In spite of having few major risk factors for stroke, normal weight people who slept less than six hours a night had an increased risk of stroke symptoms. This connection was absent in people who were overweight or obese.
The researchers suggest that lack of sleep may be a precursor to other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure or obesity.
The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so the results are still preliminary. Other research, however, has found that lack of sleep can interfere with memory, cause depression and may lead to obesity.
To keep your body running smoothly, top off your tanks each night with the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.