Should Stroke Patients Sleep a Lot?

Quality sleep is critical for recovery after a stroke because the brain does much of its repair work during sleep. Disrupted sleep and insomnia are associated with overall slower and less effective recovery. So doing all you can to get a good night’s sleep is imperative to your healing process. But is there such a thing as too much sleep post-stroke? 

Post-stroke fatigue is a condition that 40-70% of all stroke patients experience. The range is broad because many people just consider the exhaustion a side-effect of the stroke and try sleeping more in order to overcome it. However, with post-stroke fatigue, sleeping more does not solve the problem. 

What is post-stroke fatigue?

Post-stroke fatigue is a feeling of complete physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. You may find yourself sleeping a lot, partly because you’re so tired and you think it could help, and partly because you just don’t feel like doing anything. It really is a catch-22; since you’re too tired to move, you also struggle to feel motivated to perform the therapy that can speed your recovery and improve your post-stroke fatigue. 

There are a number of factors that could be at play in causing this fatigue: medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, depression and stress that often plague stroke survivors, and disrupted night sleep can all take a toll on both the body and the mind. You should also consider your diet and your body’s vitamin and mineral levels. Your body can’t operate properly or heal properly if it doesn’t have the necessary building blocks. 

Talk to your doctor

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms – how well you sleep at night, how often you nap, your energy level, emotional state, level of participation in your therapy, and any other factors that may affect your health and recovery. Your doctor should be able to order any necessary tests and offer you advice and medical interventions to help you get your energy and motivation back so that you can recover. 

Improving interrupted sleep

If your sleep is poor or interrupted, you are not going to have energy during the day. Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, frequent need to go to the bathroom, and frequent awakening during the night are signs of a sleep-wake cycle gone amiss and could be signs of other health issues, so be sure to mention these symptoms to your doctor.

A few things you can do to help improve your sleep:

  • Develop bedtime routines to help signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Take at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed to begin a relaxation routine. Turn off all screens – the light from the screens causes heightened activity in the brain. Tone down your senses by lowering the light level, turning off noise, and perhaps putting on soothing, quiet sounds. Try prayer or meditation before bed to calm your mind and release stress. Make sure the room in which you sleep is dark and comfortable. Don’t keep the TV or computer in your bedroom. Reserve your room for sleeping.
  • Try bright light therapy in the morning when you get up. Expose yourself to bright sunlight or a special sunlight lamp to restart your circadian rhythm – the natural sleep/wake cycle of your body.
  • Supplement your melatonin, which is the hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps you sleep. Some people do not produce enough, leading to insomnia or waking up too soon.
  • Consider either a special mouthpiece or surgery to correct your mouth or throat to eliminate sleep apnea. Losing weight can also improve breathing. 

Addressing post-stroke fatigue

Improving disrupted sleep may help reduce daytime exhaustion. Some other steps you can take to overcome post-stroke fatigue are:

  • Maintain strong relationships with family and friends
  • Get some exercise in an environment you enjoy. Do you have a dog? Go to a dog park and get some fresh air, even if it’s in a wheelchair or with a walker for the time being. The fresh air and four-legged friends will improve your mood and give you an energy boost.
  • Take naps if necessary after outings or therapy sessions, but try to keep the naps short so you can sleep well at night.
  •  Maintain a positive attitude. As human beings, we can apply our intellect and free will to change how we think, even if we don’t feel positive emotionally. By recognizing that your emotions may be just a symptom of your tiredness, you may be able to improve your self-talk and thus “talk yourself out of” negative thoughts. For instance, if feeling sad about your physical limitations leads you to think you’ll never recover, stop those thoughts with counter-thoughts, such as, “No, I’m going to recover. My emotions may feel sad right now, but emotions are not going to control my recovery. My behavior and my therapy will control my recovery.” That positive attitude, in time, will eventually improve your mood, too. 

Be kind to yourself as you recover. Keep a positive attitude, follow your doctors’ and therapists’ recommendations, and do what you can to eliminate stroke factors from your life to avoid another stroke. And ask your doctor about adding Neuralert stroke detection wristbands to your recovery plan. Our state-of-the-art technology looks like a smartwatch and can signal your medical team quickly if it detects signs of another stroke.