Adults that have trouble getting to sleep, compared to other patterns of insomnia, have been found to have a higher risk for cognitive impairment later in life. A study from the University of Michigan found the associated risk in adults for up to 14 years after the sleep disorder initially begins.
The study analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, which included 2,496 adults who were 51 and older. In 2002, they were required to report the frequency of their insomnia symptoms.
Then, in 2016, researchers followed up with cognition assessments. Neuropsychological tests were performed to analyze episodic memory, executive function, language, visuoconstruction, and processing speed. Results were altered for sociodemographics and baseline global cognitive performance.
Lead author Afsara Zaheed spoke about the study saying: “While there is growing evidence for a link between insomnia and cognitive impairment in older adults, it has been difficult to interpret the nature of these associations given how differently both insomnia and cognitive impairment can present across individuals. By investigating associations between specific insomnia complaints and cognition over time using strong measures of cognitive ability, we hoped to gain additional clarity on whether and how these different sleep problems may lead to poor cognitive outcomes.”
The results of the study showed that those who had trouble falling asleep in 2002 had a higher risk of cognitive impairment in 2016. Researchers noted that participants who had trouble falling asleep showed poorer episodic memory, executive function, language, processing speed, and visuospatial performance.
The analysis also found that associations between sleep initiation and cognition later in life were associated with depressive symptoms and vascular diseases.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition that involves difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or regularly waking up earlier than desired, resulting in poor sleep quality. Daytime symptoms can include fatigue or sleepiness, problems concentrating, depression, anxiety, and low motivation or energy.
Given the lack of treatments available for late-life cognitive disorders, these results can help with disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With regular screening for insomnia symptoms, health care professionals hope this new information can help track and identify people with trouble falling asleep in mid-to-late life who might be at a higher risk for cognitive impairments later in life.
Further research may be needed to determine whether intervening on insomnia symptoms can help slow or prevent cognitive impairment progression.