Sleep After A Stroke The Key To Faster Recovery

Henry Hoffman
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
Last modified on September 9th, 2022

Sleep disruption is very common after suffering a stroke, more than half of survivors have problems sleeping in the months following. Poor sleep can slow recovery, cause depression, and even lead to memory problems. Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate these symptoms.

The Role of Sleep in Stroke Recovery

Following a stroke, one of the most important factors to a successful recovery is sleep. Quality sleep has many benefits, especially for stroke survivors. Getting a good night’s sleep supports neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to restructure and create new neural connections in healthy parts of the brain, allowing stroke survivors to re-learn movements and functions.

Disrupted sleep, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on post-stroke recovery. Insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and interrupted sleep have frequently been associated with an overall slower and less effective recovery.

Recovering from a stroke requires time, patience, and, perhaps most important of all, rest. Support and empathy from family members or a support group is highly encouraged as this can be a difficult process. It is important to keep in mind that not all challenges on the road to recovery from stroke can be improved by sleep. Some post stroke fatigue may be caused by other factors where a stroke survivor may feel lethargic no matter how much sleep they get.

Common Sleep Problems After Stroke

Following a stroke, patients may experience a change in their sleep patterns. Over half of stroke survivors experience insomnia, sleep-related breathing disorders, or sleep-wake cycle disorders.


Insomnia is the inability to fall or stay asleep. Some survivors may experience problems from getting too much sleep, but more often those who’ve suffered a stroke tend to have issues getting enough sleep and find themselves drowsier during the day.

Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders

Sleep related breathing disorders affect our breathing while we sleep and are characterized by disruptions of normal breathing patterns that only occur in our sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea include choking, snoring, and loud gasping sounds while sleeping. Atypical breathing cycles  can potentially increase the risk of having another stroke. Snoring and sleep apnea are the most common sleep related breathing disorders, with an estimated 25 million Americans reported as having obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep-Wake Cycle Disorders

Sleep-wake cycle refers to the 24 hour daily sleep pattern which consists of approximately 16 hours of daytime wakefulness and 8 hours of night-time sleep. The complex process of the sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the body’s circadian rhythm and natural tendency to return to what is stable (sleep homeostasis).

Most people have the habit of sleeping when it gets dark and being awake during the daylight hours. But some people who’ve survived a stroke may no longer keep this sleep-wake schedule and may find themselves sleeping at odd hours.

Treating Sleep Problems

There are multiple  approaches to treat insomnia, sleep apnea, and sleep-wake cycle disorders. Below are some of the methods doctors might share with stroke survivors.

Relaxing Mind and Body

From prescription medication to changing pre-bed routines, insomnia can be approached in several different ways. Alternative methods for insomnia treatment include relaxation training, meditation, breathing exercises, and overall mindfulness in everyday life.

Improving Airflow and Breathing

For sleep-related breathing disorders, like sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a common and effective treatment. CPAP machines deliver small bursts of air that prevent any blockages that may obstruct the airway.

However, if CPAP doesn’t work for an individual, there are alternatives. Options include using a mouthpiece that helps to prevent teeth from clenching and keeping the tongue out of the way. This is a very effective and affordable way to treat your sleep apnea. In extreme cases, surgery that widens the airway can be helpful in relieving sleep-related breathing problems.

Using Bright Light Therapy

For sleep-wake cycle disorders, there are also many different approaches. Bright light therapy is a good option. This is usually used for people who are struggling with getting their circadian rhythm in check. Bright light therapy can help people restart their inner clocks. Typically, this is practiced in the morning, by exposing oneself to a bright light for about 30 minutes. Exposure to bright light, like sunlight, for example, can help to reset the inner clock and allow people to reap the benefits of quality sleep.


The hormone melatonin can also prove useful in resetting your inner clock. It is similar to a sedative in that it makes you drowsy and can help you fall asleep faster, which in turn can help to correct the sleep-wake schedule. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps control your internal clock and natural cycle of sleeping and waking hours. As a supplement, melatonin is sometimes used to reduce chronic cluster headaches, treat jet lag, seasonal affective disorder,  or sleep problems such as insomnia. Always check with your doctor before taking supplements to reduce the risk of bad interactions with any other medications you may be taking.

Changing Habits and Routines

There are several habits you can incorporate into your daily and nightly routine to improve your sleep and help to prevent a second stroke. Regardless of what kind of sleep disorder you are suffering from, here are a few tips and adjustments you can make right now to help improve sleep:

  • Follow a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This will create a habit and help you to fall asleep, and stay asleep, consistently.
  • Include more movement in your day, like walking or exercise.
  • Expose yourself to sunshine and light each day.
  • If you live somewhere that is noisy at night, think of ways to prevent noise or avoid it by using noise-cancelling headphones, or white noise machines.
  • Keep your sleeping space dark and comfortable. Blackout curtains are a great way to ensure darkness. Be sure to keep your room at a cool and pleasant temperature as well.
  • Create a bedtime routine, and try to avoid electronics for 30 minutes right before bedtime. Opt for a book or warm bath instead.
  • Reserve your bedroom for sleep. Keep eating and TV to your living areas.

Heal the Brain and Body

Sleep is important for good health, especially for somebody recovering from a stroke. It plays a significant part in healing the brain and in aiding physical recovery. You can use these strategies and tactics to help to improve your sleep and be on your way to better health.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.


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