In Stress and Health

How might our leg movements in sleep create a risk of stroke and heart disease?

Although you, my readers, come to my blog to read my brief posts related to stress and health, I decided to share with you the information related to health, where stress might not play an essential role. Just recently, reading the Hospital News magazine, I paid my attention to an article where the author discussed the link between our sleep-related leg movements and stroke, heart disease, and even mortality. This information seemed quite helpful. And as we know that “Ipsa Scientia potestas est” or knowledge itself is power (Sir Francis Bacon, 1597), I believe you’ll spend several minutes to make yourself familiar with findings in this field.

In one study, involuntary repetitive movements in the hip, ankle and big toes during sleep – known as periodic limb movement (PLMs) – were associated with silent stroke in the brain, which appear as bright white spots on MRI brain scans. In patients, who had experienced a first-ever minor stroke or mini stroke (or transient ischemic attack), those with more PLMs had a greater quantity of white matter lesions on neuroimaging. Those white matter lesions are known to predict an increased risk of future stroke, dementia and even death.

Why does it happen? It is thought that the involuntary disruptive limb activity at night gives rise to significant nocturnal fluctuations in heart rate and blood pressure, and may result in daytime hypertension. PLMs are also associated with increased markers of inflammation and may increase the risk of plaque formation in the arteries and rupture.

In the second study, which represented a systematic review of studies published since 1947, the researchers came to the conclusion, that there is evidence of a significant association between PMLs and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

These findings are exciting, because they shed the light on the potential importance of PMLs and the importance of sleep for long-term brain health.


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