Tired of Post-stroke Fatigue?


Posted by Lisa O’Neill Hill

As a stroke survivor, you may be struggling with fatigue. That’s not surprising. Strokes are physically and emotionally exhausting. Most stroke survivors grapple with some sort of fatigue and many have trouble sleeping.

“Sleep has a great restorative function,” says Kyoung Bin Im, M.D., M.S, staff physician at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ Sleep Disorders Center and assistant professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry at Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. “Stroke affects the brain itself—sleep may be even more important for stroke survivors.”

If you’re a stroke survivor and you never feel rested, consider these recommendations:

Wake up at the same time every morning.

Go to bed only when you are ready to fall asleep. “Bed time isn’t as important as the time you wake up. Don’t go to bed until you feel really ready,” Dr. Im says. “Lots of patients with insomnia go to bed too early in the evening.”

Don’t worry about the number of hours of sleep you’re getting. “There’s no right amount of sleep in terms of a number. In general, sleeping seven to nine hours is a really healthy duration,” Dr. Im says, adding some people need more and some need less. The key is whether you feel refreshed.

Talk to your doctor if you are tired and are having trouble sleeping, especially if you are snoring, gasping for breath, or waking up a lot. Obstructive sleep apnea is common in stroke survivors.

Avoid sleeping on your back. This can help with sleep apnea. “Sleeping on the side can make a huge difference,” Dr. Im says. Sleeping on the back may not be right for everyone. Ask your doctor if it’s OK for you.

Consider pillows. They are not just for your head. Using a body pillow can be helpful and keeping a pillow behind your back may help you stay on your side.

Get exposure to light in the morning. “It could be a natural source—sunlight—or a light box,” Dr. Im says. “That morning light will reset your time clock in the brain.”

If your primary care physician can’t solve your sleep challenges, Dr. Im suggests asking for a referral to a sleep specialist.

“Sleep is really important in restoring function back,” Dr. Im says.

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