How sleep quality in your 30s and 40s can impact memory later in life

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Researchers say the quality of sleep in younger years can impact memory in older age. Maria Korneeva/Getty Images
  • Sleep disruptions – waking up and then going back to sleep during the night – may contribute to memory and cognitive problems.
  • The duration of sleep was not considered in the study.
  • Researchers reported that cognitive issues showed up 10 years after the end of the study.

People who experience disrupted sleep in their 30s and 40s are more likely to have memory and cognitive problems later in life, according to a study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers looked at the sleep patterns of 526 people who were followed for 11 years.

To calculate averages, the participants wore a wrist monitor for three consecutive days, one year apart. They also reported bedtimes and wake times in a sleep diary.

In addition, the partcipants completed a sleep quality survey, receiving a score ranging from 0 to 21, with higher scores indicating poorer sleep quality.

The scientists also recorded how long each person slept each night.

Participants also completed a series of memory and thinking tests.

“This important work shows how healthy brain aging is a lifelong endeavor,” says Dr. David Merrill, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center in California who was not involved in the study.

“Even in early adulthood, sleep quality results in measurable changes in cognitive performance by mid-life. The study findings support the importance of sleep quality, uninterrupted, or unfragmented sleep in relation to cognitive performance,” Merrill told Medical News Today.

“Undoubtedly, we need a certain minimal quantity of sleep too, but the study wasn’t a sleep lab study, so it wasn’t structured to ask that question,” Merrill added. “Perhaps [discussing sleep patterns with my patients and] encouraging them to use sleep trackers so they can see for themselves how better sleep quality relates to days with improved energy and thinking. There are great direct-to-consumer wearables now that can allow us to know how well we’re doing to get a good quality night’s sleep.”

The researchers reported that the most significant limitation of the study was its small sample size. This prevented the researchers from thoroughly investigating potential race or gender differences.

It is possible that cognitive function is related more to the quality of sleep rather than the length of time spent sleeping.

A study completed in 2021 at Washington University Sleep Medicine Center reported that there could potentially be a middle range where cognitive function remained steady.

The scientists found that too little and too much sleep could contribute to cognitive difficulties. Cognitive scores declined in participants who slept less than 4.5 hours or more than 6.5 hours. The association held true even after adjusting for a variety of factors, including age, sex, and levels of Alzheimer’s proteins.

People who wake up feeling rested should not feel compelled to change their sleep habits, experts say.

However, those who do not sleep well might notice they have more difficulty with cognitive tasks. Treating the issue can potentially improve cognition.

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