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Sleep Deficiency Can Raise Risk of Stroke, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Beyond leaving you drowsy and irritable, sleepless nights can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health.

"We know sleep is a critical biological function that influences a wide variety of physiological process," said Dr. Susan Redline, a sleep specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.  "Sleep deficiency can affect mood and the ability to make memories and learn, but it also affects metabolism, appetite, blood pressure, levels of inflammation in the body and perhaps even the immune response."

Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, heart disease and cancer, and now a new study finds little sleep can also lead to strokes.

Researchers at the University of Alabama surveyed more than 5,600 people and found that those who slept fewer than six hours a night were four times more likely to suffer a stroke than their well-rested counterparts.

"We speculate that short sleep duration is a precursor to other traditional stroke risk factors, and once these traditional stroke risk factors are present, then perhaps they become stronger risk factors than sleep duration alone," lead author Megan Ruiter of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement.

The study is being presented Monday at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston.

Stroke risk is also higher in people who are overweight, diabetic or hypertensive -- all conditions linked to poor sleep.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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