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Little Or Poor Sleep Leads To Worse Brain Function In Later Life

Update Date: Jun 27, 2014 10:26 AM EDT

Sleep problems are associated with worse memory and executive function in older people, according to a recent research. 

Researchers analyzed sleep and cognitive (brain function) data from 3,968 men and 4,821 women who were to report on the quality and quantity of sleep over the period of a month. 

The study found an association between both quality and duration of sleep and brain function which changes with age. 

In adults aged between 50 and 64 years of age, short sleep (<6hrs per night) and long sleep (>8hrs per night) were associated with lower brain function scores. By contrast, in older adults (65-89 years) lower brain function scores were only observed in long sleepers, according to the press release.

"6-8 hours of sleep per night is particularly important for optimum brain function, in younger adults. These results are consistent with our previous research, which showed that 6-8 hours of sleep per night was optimal for physical health, including lowest risk of developing obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke," said Dr Michelle A Miller in the press release. 

The research further noted that in the younger pre-retirement aged adults, sleep quality did not have any significant association with brain function scores. On the other hand, in older adults (>65 years), there was a significant relationship between sleep quality and the observed scores. 

"Sleep is important for good health and mental wellbeing" said Professor Francesco Cappuccio, "Optimising sleep at an older age may help to delay the decline in brain function seen with age, or indeed may slow or prevent the rapid decline that leads to dementia".

"If poor sleep is causative of future cognitive decline, non-pharmacological improvements in sleep may provide an alternative low-cost and more accessible Public Health intervention, to delay or slow the rate of cognitive decline," concluded Dr Miller.

The research has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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