Stress and sleep loss can each raise your stroke risk, even for young and healthy people, according to a new study released by researchers in the Netherlands.
The scientists determined that for healthy young men whose sleep was restricted in the lab, their white blood cell count spiked as if their immune system had been exposed to threat—leading researches to conclude that the immune system responds to lack of sleep in the same way that it does to stress.
Researchers have concluded that people who get less than six hours of sleep a night have a 4.5 percent greater risk of stroke than those who get 7 to 8 hours a night. Scientists don’t know exactly why, but they do know that lack of sleep causes inflammation, and elevates blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels, which all lead to higher stroke risk.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon believe that they have identified the reason stress raises our risk of heart disease, allergies and susceptibility to colds and flu. The reason centers around cortisol, the stress hormone released whenever we feel fear, worry or anxiety—the thing that gives us the jolt of energy to run away from danger faster than we normally would or lift something heavier than we’d normally be able to lift. Apparently when our immune systems are constantly bathed in cortisol, meaning we’re in a constant state of stress, our bodies lose the ability to regulate inflammation—our tissues release less anti-inflammatory substances and we get sick.
So if we want to stay free of disease and live as long as possible, we must strive for 7-8 hours of sleep per night—and a life as free of stress as possible. Good luck with that.