Middle-aged people with sleep problems such as insomnia, nightmares or waking up too early are more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment as they age, according to a new study.
The study, conducted by Swedish researchers, examined data from four studies, two of which followed almost 3,400 people for more than two decades, starting in their 50s, notes a Jan. 23 article on Reuters.com. Researchers found that people who had trouble sleeping in middle age were more likely to have cognitive decline in old age than those who didn’t experience sleep problems.
After three to 11 years of sleep disturbances, people had lower scores on cognitive function tests, according to the study, which was published Jan. 3 online in Sleep Medicine.
Also, when people had nightmares in middle age, it was associated with poor cognitive function later in life, the article says.
“While sleep disturbances are an important risk factor for cognitive decline, the good news is it’s a modifiable risk factor,” says lead author Shireen Sindi of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and Imperial College London.
“We can all have occasional sleeping difficulties, either due to high stress levels, caffeine or alcohol consumption or due to jet lag,” she says. “However, if a person experiences sleep disturbances on a chronic basis, such as difficulties falling asleep, waking up during the middle of the night, waking up too early in the morning, or suffering from poor sleep quality, it is important to seek help from a health professional.”