Sleeping disorders after a stroke

  • 0
  • November 3, 2010
Woman in bed

We all know the importance of a good night of sleep. To sleep is an essential part of our daily life and sleeping problems can make you tired, depressed, frustrated and irritable. Yet, sleeping problems can be even more severe for stroke survivors, affecting both the rehabilitation process and – more importantly – increasing the risk of having another stroke.

Rehabilitation after a stroke is hard by itself and requires much from the patient. As progress cannot be assessed on a daily basis the success of a physiotherapy program depends heavily on the patient’s concentration, motivation and energy. In other words, it doesn’t combine well with sleeping disorders. Luckily, sleeping disorders – if properly diagnosed – can often be managed easily.

The most common sleeping disorder among stroke survivors is Sleep-disordered breathing, were abnormal breathing patterns is causing your sleep to be interrupted several times during the night. It is particularly important to be aware of signs of sleep-disordered breathing as it, in addition to sleepiness, increases blood pressure, heart stress and blood clotting. Typical symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Frequently waking up gasping for breath
  • Increased sweating
  • Breath shortness
  • Inability to fall asleep or remain asleep

Another typical disorder experienced by stroke survivors is Sleep-wake cycle disorders (circadian disturbances) resulting from a sleep schedule no longer determined by day and night. Common symptoms are:

  • Difficulty initiating and/ or maintaining sleep
  • Non-restorative sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness, poor concentration and headaches
  • Impaired performance, including a decrease in cognitive skills
  • Poor psycho-motor coordination
  • Gastrointestinal distress

Insomnia, characterized by inadequate sleep quality and quantity, is experienced by many people and it frequently affects stroke survivors as well. It causes people to feel tired and often get very worried about not getting enough sleep. Typical symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning or feeling tired upon waking
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Irritability and problems with concentration or memory

If you experience any of the above symptoms and believe you are suffering from a sleeping disorder, do not hesitate contacting a doctor or another profession that can help you. It can improve the quality of your life!



  • Pam Evans says:

    Since having a stroke 6 yrs ago, I have suffered from insomnia. Sometimes difficulty getting to sleep, sometimes, waking up early. I have tried everything. Any advice?

    Iam 62.

  • Antoine says:

    Hi Pam,
    It is possible to improve some cases of sleep disturbances with a healthier diet. Losing some weight and cutting down on alcohol can help sleep better.

    However, in cases of severe sleeping disorders, we advise you to see a doctor who will give you more detailed advice.

  • Cathy says:

    My 74 yr old mother suffered a stroke 8 months ago and only returned home 3 months ago. She wakes several times throughout the night, is very disoriented when she wakes, and is often combative … i.e., angry she cannot be in her own bed upstairs (physically unable now to handle stairs, let alone walk) & wants everyone else to be awake and miserable, too. The next morning she cannot remember a thing and denies her outbursts. Does she need a psychiatrist, a sleeping pill, more stimulous during the day to tire her out? We’re exhausted and at our wit’s end!

  • Diane says:

    Hi, Cathy,

    Your mother does not need a psychiatrist. She would need a psycho-geriatrist and/or a neurologist to assess her sleep disorder.

    A Reverse sleep/wake cycle and/or coupled with insomnia is normal not only in the geriatric population but also with stroke survivors.

    My mother is 11 years post-stoke, will be 81 yrs this year. We’ve tried anti-convulsant Gabapentin, anti-depressants Seroquel, Remeron & Paxil, the herb Kava Kava before it was announced it was unsafe, the herb Valerian Root, Melatonin, a hypnotic called Zopiclone. Sometimes we have to further add two Tylenol to relax her muscles. We give her warm milk at bedtime, which has Tryptophan, an amino acid component in it to induce sleep. I have noticed however that when a caregiver takes her outdoors, providing her with sunshine, fresh air, outside stimuli and recreation, she often sleeps without the need of drugs, fyi.

    Further, many stroke-survivors are afflicted with vascular dementia, which can be triggered by pain, anxiety, fear, fatigue, illness, infection, sundowning, new faces, change in routine. Dementia and associated aggression or resistance is commonplace, a tremendous challenge and trepidation to a caregiver. Stroke-related dementia does not progress like Alzheimer’s; it only becomes worse after another stroke or some believe after a seizure/s.

    Hope I’ve helped.

  • Gladys says:

    My dad had stroke 3yrs ago, today he was sleeping and woke up unable to breath, this happens every 2 weeks especially in the night time when he is sleeping why does this happen? he also has diabetics after the stroke and suffers from high blood pressure:( Thanks any response will be greatly appreciated.

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