Stroke and Sleep – Related

Here’s a story from AARP about TV personality Mark McEwen’s experience suffering from a Stroke. It prompted me to share some advice on how to avoid a stroke or reduce its effects.


For over 15 years, Mark McEwen was the face and voice of CBS’ morning show, until a misdiagnosed stroke almost killed him. Watch the inspiring story of how stroke changed Mark’s life forever, and how he fought to take back his life again. For more information on how to prevent stroke and know the symptoms visit

[EDITOR: Amazingly, the folks at the National Stroke Association didn’t even include insufficient sleep as a risk factor, but they did include conditions that themselves are associated with sleep, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Further into I found Stroke Related Sleep Disorders, a brochure that does discuss sleep, but it singles out obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as a risk factor while ignoring other sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome.]

In the video, Mark mentions the importance of nutrition & exercise, but there’s another often overlooked pillar of good health not mentioned — Sleep.

Time for Bed

Sleep and Health

The CDCsays 30% of working adults don’t sleep well and associates short sleep with stroke and all sorts of other health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart & kidney disease, cancer, depression, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s. That’s why they called Insufficient Sleep a Public Health Epidemic.

Sleep Well to Avoid Stroke

A 2012 government study (highlighted in USA Today) found that stroke risk was four times higher with less than six hours a night, vs. seven to eight.

The connection between restorative sleep and stroke and health is why I’ve posted so many sleep articles and joined with Intelligent Sleep to promote sleep wellness. I encourage you to invest in yourself by giving sleep a high priority in your life. Beyond the health issues are its impact on safety and performance, because too little restful sleep impacts your alertness, attention, creativity, decision-making, focus, memory, and mood. And that affects your career and personal relationships.

“People know how important diet and exercise are in preventing strokes. The public is less aware of the impact of insufficient amounts of sleep. Sleep is important; the body is stressed when it doesn’t get the right amount.” (sleep expert Megan Ruiter)

Take Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone molecule produced by the pineal gland in response to light. It helps to regulate the circadian rhythm (biological clock) and your body’s ability to know when to sleep and wake.

But there’s another benefit of melatonin. It’s by far the most powerful antioxidant and thus helps rid the body of free radicals. Dr. Russ Ritter, the world expert on melatonin, takes 30mg/day even though other physicians say to limit dosage to 3-4mg and only for short periods. What the others don’t understand is that melatonin doesn’t accumulate in the body or stop the pineal gland from producing more, so there’s no addiction risk of long-term use. Another myth is that it’s only for nighttime use. Melatonin does not make you drowsy; it  just allows you to fall asleep; and as an antioxidant, it can be taken any time, although before bed is best.

Ritter keeps a supply of 150mg melatonin on hand in the fridge in case of a stroke, heart attack, car accident, or any other emergency, instructing his wife to give him the melatonin immediately to protect brain cells from oxidative stress.

After a Stroke

The National Stroke Association notes that sleep problems are common among stroke survivors. So, whether your intent is to prevent a stroke or better recover from one, I urge you to seek professional help for any disorder that causes you to sleep less than 7-8 hours a night. You’ll thank me for it.

Stroke infographic - Get the Facts


What is a Stroke? Infographic text for screen readers

A Stroke is a disturbance in the blood vessels leading to or within the brain. These blood vessels feed the brain with oxygen and nutrients. There are two types of stroke. Isochemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel becomes blocked and that part of the brain dies. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel breaks and blood fills and damages that part of the brain. A Transcient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is just as serious as a stroke and occurs when a blood vessel becomes blocked but is temporary, lasting a few minutes.

Did You Know?

  • A stroke occurs every 40 seconds on average in the U.S.
  • Every 4 minutes someone dies of stroke
  • Half of all strokes in the U.S. can be attributed to high blood pressure.
  • One fourth of all strokes in the U.S. occur in people who have already had one.
  • Strokes are the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the #1 leading cause of disability.
  • Strokes cost the U.S. $73.7 billion in 2010.

Major causes & risk factors of stroke include:

  • High blood pressure,
  • Smoking,
  • Diabetes,
  • High cholesterol,
  • Atherosclerosis,
  • Heart rhythm problems,
  • [and not listed, Sleep.]

Warnings & Symptoms of a Stroke

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

If you experience these signs or see someone else with these problems, call 911 immediately.

Can anything be done to treat a stroke? YES.

  • A brain saving medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can reduce disability after a stroke, but it can only be given within 3 hours of the start of symptoms. So do not delay if you suspect a stroke, and not the time that symptoms started.
  • EDITOR: As noted in this article, the antioxidant Melatonin can also help reduce harm if taken soon enough.
  • Most people recover to some degree in the few months after a stroke. The amount of recovery varies by person and depends on factors such as size of stroke and the person’s age.

This infographic was produced by The Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York