Sleep troubles now linked to cognitive troubles later

People who have difficuilty falling asleep or staying asleep may have more problems remembering or concentrating more than a decade later, research shows.

A woman laying on a white pillow puts her hand over her face

If you have trouble falling asleep, problems remembering or concentrating are likely to occur more than a decade later, according to new research.

Trouble sleeping was the only symptom that predicted poor cognitive performance 14 years later when compared with other symptoms of insomnia, the study shows.

There is growing evidence linking insomnia and cognitive impairment in older adults, but interpreting these associations can be difficult based on an individual's dynamics, the researchers say.

“By investigating associations between specific insomnia complaints and cognition, we hoped to gain additional clarity on how these different sleep problems may lead to poor cognitive outcomes,” says Afsara Zaheed, psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper in the journal Sleep.

The data involved nearly 2,500 adults aged 65+ from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study of aging in a nationally representative sample of adults aged 51+ in the United States.

In 2002, respondents reported having insomnia, which included trouble falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, early awakenings, and not feeling rested. During the follow-up in 2016, many had problems with their memory, language, and other functions. Those who reported more frequent trouble falling asleep in 2002 had “worse scores” or “lower performance” in 2016 compared to those who did not have that insomnia symptom.

Another important finding was that depressive symptoms and vascular diseases in 2014 partially explained the relationship between trouble falling asleep in 2002 and cognition in 2016.

These results are important given the lack of currently available treatments for late-life cognitive disorders, like Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, Zaheed says.

Additional intervention research is needed to determine whether intervening on insomnia symptoms, or depression and vascular disease, can prevent or slow the progression of cognitive impairments, she says.

Additional coauthors are from John Hopkins University and the University of Michigan. The researchers will present their findings at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society's annual sleep conference.

Source: University of Michigan

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