Trouble falling asleep predicts cognitive impairment in later life

A study of nearly 2,500 adults found that having trouble falling asleep, as compared to other patterns of insomnia, was the main insomnia symptom that predicted cognitive impairment 14 years later.

Results show that having trouble falling asleep in 2002 was associated with cognitive impairment in 2016. Specifically, more frequent trouble falling asleep predicted poorer episodic memory, executive function, language, processing speed, and visuospatial performance. Further analysis found that associations between sleep initiation and later cognition were partially explained by both depressive symptoms and vascular diseases in 2014 for all domains except episodic memory, which was only partially explained by depressive symptoms.

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“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,” said lead author Afsara Zaheed, a graduate student in clinical science within the department of psychology at the University of Michigan. “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.”

Insomnia involves difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or regularly waking up earlier than desired, despite allowing enough time in bed for sleep. Daytime symptoms include fatigue or sleepiness; feeling dissatisfied with sleep; having trouble concentrating; feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable; and having low motivation or energy.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Trouble falling asleep predicts cognitive impairment in later life

  1. When I was working a demanding job I had a medical practitioner tell me my brain was remaining too active when I slept. The challenge was how to separate the stresses of a job from my general wellbeing. Not always easy figuring out how to do that.

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    • Thanks for sharing, Jasper. I think that is beyond my pay grade. But, you might have tried some relaxation before hitting the sack. Even some yoga. I still use yoga breathing to bring myself down at night and I have been out of the working world for two decades.

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      • Now that I’m retired I’ve found some routines that have improved my sleep. Relaxation I always helpful. I’ve been doing what some call 4 Square Breathing. Side benefits have been increased lung capacity. That is an antidote to various respiratory type of health issues.

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