Good quality sleep and avoiding sleep apnoea can boost brain power: study

Monash University

Good quality sleep and the absence of sleep apnoea are associated with better cognitive function, a Monash-University-led international study has found.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the study investigated 5946 adults in the USA in five independent community-based cohorts involved in an overnight sleep study and neuropsychological assessments.

It found that better sleep quality and the absence of sleep apnoea in adults aged 58-89 who had not experienced stroke or dementia were associated with better cognition over five years of follow-up.

Individual differences in the composition of sleep, such as the time spent in light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep, were not associated with cognition.

“These findings suggest that in adults without dementia, sleep consolidation and the absence of sleep apnoea may be particularly important for optimising cognition with ageing,” the researchers wrote.

First author and Monash University Associate Professor Matthew Pase, from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, who presented the findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in the Netherlands, said the study investigated which aspects of sleep patterns and respiratory-related sleep disturbances were associated with cognitive function in middle-aged to older adults.

Since participants in this community-based study did not present with any specific sleep complaints, the association between even mild obstructive sleep apnoea and poorer cognition is an important observation.

Associate Professor Pase said the findings suggested that the role of interventions to improve sleep for maintaining cognitive function required investigation.

“At least half our sample had evidence of at least mild obstructive sleep apnoea,” he said.

“I think the most interesting finding is that participants that have mild to severe sleep apnoea had worse cognition, so they had worse thinking and memory performance, for example.

“This is significant because there have been some studies that have shown relationships between obstructive sleep apnoea and poor cognition, but they’ve genuinely relied on people with a diagnosis.

“The take home is that our findings suggest different elements of sleep are important for cognitive health, particularly the quality of someone’s overnight sleep and whether or not they have sleep apnoea.”

Associate Professor Pase said good sleep was essential for health, yet associations between sleep and dementia risk remained “incompletely understood”.

“Most research on sleep and cognition has used subjective reports of sleep or rest-activity patterns,” he said.

“A major strength of the current study was the use of objective overnight sleep studies in such a large number of participants.”

This study is the first to come from the Sleep and Dementia Consortium, which was established to study associations between risk of dementia and markers of accelerated brain ageing and injury measured with brain imaging and cognitive testing.

It is led by Associate Professor Pase and Associate Professor Jayandra Himali from the University of Texas in San Antonio.

The consortium curated gold standard data from five population-based cohorts across the USA with methodologically consistent, overnight, home-based sleep studies and neuropsychological assessments over five years of follow-up.

“This has allowed us to generate the best evidence yet as to which aspects of sleep are more important for cognitive health,” Associate Professor Pase said.

The cohorts included the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, Cardiovascular Health Study, Framingham Heart Study (FHS), Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study, and Study of Osteoporotic Fractures.

Results were adjusted for demographic variables, the time between the sleep study and neuropsychological assessment (0-5 years), body mass index, antidepressant use, and sedative use.

One of the next steps is for the researchers to explore the aspects of sleep health most strongly related to dementia risk.

Associate Professor Pase is

/Public Release.