'If you don't sleep, your body is stressed, you crave food, your immune system is compromised.'

London - Struggling to get to sleep at night could mean you are up to four times more likely to suffer a stroke, according to scientists.

They also claimed that those with persistent sleep disorders also have more than twice the risk of suffering a heart attack.

The findings have led to calls for doctors to start considering sleep disorders a major risk factor for heart problems, alongside smoking, lack of exercise and a poor diet.

Professor Valery Gafarov and his team from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences tracked 657 men aged 25 to 64 for 14 years. They found that men who reported a sleeping disorder had a risk of heart attacks that was 2 to 2.6 times higher and a stroke risk that was 1.5 to 4 times higher than those without.

The study, one of the first to come up with a numerical risk factor for the link between sleep problems and heart complaints, was presented at a European Society of Cardiology conference in Croatia.