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  • Writer's pictureSophie Bostock, PhD

Could broken sleep in your 40s lead to memory problems?

Last week there were some scary sounding headlines linked to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

The study involved 526 people in their 30s and 40s - average age 40. Sleep was measured using a wrist monitor for 3 consecutive days, on 2 occasions, one year apart.

Participants also completed a sleep diary, and tests of cognition. On average, the volunteers slept for just 6 hours at baseline (less than the recommended 7+).

Participants were split into 3 groups based on how fragmented their sleep was, according to their sleep tracker (LOW, MEDIUM, HIGH).

11 years later..

  • 25% of those in the HIGH fragmented group had poor cognitive performance

  • 5.6% of those in the LOW fragmented group had poor cognitive performance

Even after adjusting for things like age and education, the HIGH disrupted sleepers were still twice as likely to have poor cognitive performance.

There was no difference in cognitive scores between the LOW and MEDIUM fragmented sleepers and sleep duration was not linked to cognition at follow up.

So.. it does seem that very fragmented sleep is linked to increased rates of cognitive decline, but this study can’t tell us what the cause is. It’s also true that not every disrupted sleeper had poor cognition - it just amped up the risk.

If your sleep is very fragmented right now, the good news is that there is plenty you can do to help improve sleep quality… (Plug: find out more at the next webinar!)

You could also focus on other healthy behaviours to help protect your health in later life such as...

  • 🏃‍♀️regular exercise

  • 🥑eating a mainly unprocessed diet

  • 🧘‍♀️managing stress and

  • 🫂protecting positive relationships.

Leng, Y., et al. (2024) Association Between Sleep Quantity and Quality in Early Adulthood With Cognitive Function in Midlife. Neurology.

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