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Sleep Quality for Cognitive Strength

February 20, 2015

Based on the results of a new medical study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, cognitive decline is connected to poor quality sleep throughout life. This insight about sleep quality could have an effect on the future of Alzheimer’s care as scientists learn more about the cognitive processes.

In a clinical trial, researchers monitored  male volunteers’ sleep using a wrist actigraph, which recorded movement throughout the night. Almost 3,000 men with a mean age of 76 years were tracked for five nights on average. Assessments for cognitive function analyzed attention levels and executive function, the mental processes that link past experiences to present actions.

Older Male trying to fall asleep but wide awake.

The outcome was evidence that low sleep quality/efficiency and disturbed sleep can negatively affect executive function to reflect an extra five years of age. When the men didn’t get a quality night of sleep, the odds of showing a clinically significant drop in those processes were 40 to 50 percent more. Contrary to what scientists and doctors often stress, the amount of sleep men got didn’t have a profound effect on cognition.

Contributing scientists and academics assessed the specific executive functions of planning, decision making, error correction, trouble shooting and abstract thinking.

“With the rate of cognitive impairment increasing and the high prevalence of sleep problems in the elderly, it is important to determine prospective associations with sleep and cognitive decline,” said Terri Blackwell of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, lead author of the study.

Researchers said more studies need to be conducted over a longer period of time to confirm how thorough the connection of sleep and cognitive decline is, including connections to lack of sleep and dementia. The results didn’t provide an answer to the question of what internal mechanism allows sleep to have that negative effect or how it may affect treatment in memory care facilities.

In 2012, David Holtzman of Washington University in St. Louis led a study that showed increased levels of beta-amyloid in the brains of test mice following sleep deprivation. Beta-amyloid is the protein that builds into plaque in brain nerve cells, an implication of Alzheimer’s disease.

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