People with insomnia are at greater risk of future cognitive problems

(ORDO NEWS) — People with mid-life insomnia are at greater risk of developing cognitive problems later in life, according to a new study of 3,748 Finnish people.

These cognitive problems include problems with memory, concentration, and learning ability, the researchers report, and the longer insomnia lasts, the worse these brain functions will become over the years, while if the symptoms of insomnia subside, cognitive functions tend to remain more healthy in later life.

We already know that our mental (and physical) health depends on getting enough sleep. However, few studies cover such a period of time as this one. Follow-up studies were conducted 15-17 years after the initial assessment of the condition of the participants.

As a result, participants who were middle-aged and working at the start of the study were retired at the statutory retirement age or by disability by the time of re-survey.

“Our results showed that insomnia symptoms already in working age may increase the risk of cognitive decline in retirement age,” researchers from the University of Helsinki explain in their paper.

“The analysis showed that an increase in sleep complaints was associated with more severe problems in subjective cognitive function.”

The study does not state the reasons for this association. Previous research has looked at the possibility that the brain’s waste disposal system during sleep, or the effects of memory consolidation during REM sleep, may have an impact on long-term cognition in people who sleep poorly.

The researchers adjusted for other health factors known to be associated with cognitive decline in old age. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, depression and physical inactivity.

If insomnia is identified and treated early, it could prevent brain health problems and even diseases like Alzheimer’s, the study’s authors say, although there is not enough research to definitively prove a causal relationship.

In other words, we don’t know for sure that it is insomnia that is responsible for the increased risk of cognitive decline, although the link found certainly deserves further study.

“Early detection of insomnia symptoms as early as midlife could be a potential intervention point to improve sleep quality and prevent cognitive decline later in life,” the researchers explain.

“These actions can save public funds and improve a person’s well-being by adding a few more years of life in the context of aging.”

The team notes that there are many ways to improve the quality of sleep, including a more regular sleep rhythm, creating a favorable sleep environment (in terms of temperature and lighting), and checking eating and drinking habits (including, for example, coffee consumption).

The study has some limitations that you should be aware of. The study relied on self-reports rather than objective tests, so the data is based on how aware participants were of their condition and how honestly they were about it. In addition, only the second, follow-up survey asked about cognitive problems.

However, the results presented here, collected as part of the Helsinki Health Study, are sufficient to suggest an association that may be useful for future research and health assessments. It appears that insomnia has both long-term and short-term effects on the brain.

“In future studies, it would be interesting to shed light on, for example, whether treating insomnia can also slow down the development of memory impairment,” says Thea Lallukka, a medical sociologist at the University of Helsinki.


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