Photo of an older man sitting in bed suffering from insomnia

Sleep problems are common after a stroke. More than half of all stroke survivors have some type of sleep problem. Poor sleep can slow your recovery and lead to depression, memory problems, and night-time falls. Sleep plays an important part in not only helping the brain to heal, but in physical healing as well. The good news is there are ways to improve your sleep.

You may experience changes in your sleep following a stroke. More than half of stroke survivors have one of the following sleep problems:

Insomnia describes not being able to fall or stay asleep. Although some people may have problems with getting too much sleep, the usual sleep disorder is trouble sleeping at night followed by feeling drowsy during the day. Failing to get enough sleep can cause setbacks in post-stroke recovery.

Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders
The most common sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. This is a serious condition. Sleep apnea increases the risk of having a second stroke. It is caused by abnormal breathing patterns. Loud snoring, choking, and gasping sounds during sleep may mean that you have sleep apnea.

Sleep-Wake Cycle Disorders
After a stroke, some survivors do not get sleepy at night. It may be difficult to wake the stroke survivor in the morning. This happens when the sleep-wake schedule is no longer affected by sunlight and the darkness of night.

Your healthcare team can help you with your sleep problems.
  • Treatments of insomnia can include prescription sedatives or changes in your bedroom or night time activities.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is one of the most common and effective treatments of sleep-related breathing disorders like sleep apnea. CPAP uses a machine to deliver short bursts of compressed air that prevent obstruction in the airway. CPAP can help you get an uninterrupted night of sleep.
If CPAP doesn’t work well for you, there are other ways to control sleep-related breathing disorders. A special mouthpiece can be made to help minimize your symptoms. The most common purposes for mouthpieces are to prevent teeth-clenching or to prevent the tongue from interfering with breathing. In some cases, upper airway surgery can result in a wider airway and relieve sleep problems. There are also some medications that can help.
  • Sleep-wake cycle disorders can be treated in a variety of ways. Talk with your healthcare team. Bright light therapy may help. The treatment is typically administered in the morning and may last about 30 minutes.
  • Melatonin is a hormone that can be prescribed to be taken at night. It acts like a sedative and can help induce sleep at night, and in time help correct the sleep-wake cycle. Sleep-wake cycle disorders are not usually permanent and a combination of time and treatment will it in most cases.

Here is a list of common sleep-friendly adjustments you can make at home:
  • Keep the bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature
  • Prevent and avoid noises that can be heard at night
  • Increase movement and exercise
  • Expose yourself to light during the day
  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day.
  • Have a bedtime routine. For example, take a warm bath before bedtime. Listen to calm music or read a book.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep or sex. Do not eat food or watch TV in bed.
Certain foods and drinks can lead to sleep problems:
  • Consume food and drinks that are caffeine-free. Avoid coffee, tea, certain soft drinks and chocolate after the late afternoon.
  • Plan to eat dinner meal three hours before you go to bed.
  • Make sure you are full or not hungry before bedtime. But, avoid heavy meals that can cause poor sleep.
  • Limit drinks two hours before bedtime. Drinking fluids at night can lead to frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • Avoiding alcoholic drinks at night. Alcohol helps you fall asleep, but your sleep is often restless.

Sleep is important for good health. Everyone should expect to get a good night’s sleep.