According to a new study, having trouble going to sleep may be a warning sign for developing cognitive impairment later in life. Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed data from nearly 2,500 adults and found falling asleep compared to other patterns of insomnia was linked to cognitive impairment 14 years later.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that may involve trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good quality sleep. This happens even though you have the time and the right environment to sleep well. Daytime symptoms can include sleepiness or fatigue, trouble concentrating, depression, feeling anxious, irritable, and having low motivation or energy.
Cognitive Functions Analyzed
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study. In 2002, participants who were frequently experiencing insomnia were reported. In 2016, the participant’s cognition was assessed as part of the Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol. Cognitive functions were analyzed, such as episodic memory, executive function, language visuoconstruction, and processing speed.
The results show that having trouble falling asleep in 2002 was associated with cognitive impairment in 2016. Further analysis found that sleep initiation and later cognition were partially explained by depressive symptoms and vascular diseases in 2014. This was true for all domains except episodic memory, with was only partially explained by depressive symptoms.
“These results are important given the lack of currently available treatments for late-life cognitive disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said lead author Afsara Zaheed .”Sleep health and sleep behaviors are often modifiable. These results suggest that regular screening for insomnia symptoms may help with tracking and identifying people with trouble falling asleep in mid-to-late life who might be at risk for developing cognitive impairments later in life. Additional intervention research is needed to determine whether intervening on insomnia symptoms can help prevent or slow the progression of cognitive impairments in later life.”
This study adds to the growing evidence of a link between insomnia and cognitive impairment in older adults. Both insomnia and cognitive impairment can present across individuals very differently, so it can be difficult to interpret the nature of the conditions.
Therefore, it’s vital for health care professionals to be diligent in screening for insomnia earlier in life. By catching insomnia early, it may be possible to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment down the line.