Scientists from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University found that seven hours is the ideal amount of sleep for people in their middle age and upwards, with too little or too much sleep linked to poorer cognitive performance and mental health.
The research is published in Nature Aging and was conducted by Professor Jianfeng Feng et al.
Sleep plays an important role in enabling cognitive function and maintaining good psychological health. It also helps keep the brain healthy by removing waste products.
As we get older, we often see alterations in our sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and decreased quantity and quality of sleep.
It is thought that these sleep disturbances may contribute to cognitive decline and psychiatric disorders in the aging population.
In the study, the team examined data from nearly 500,000 adults aged 38-73 years from the UK Biobank. Brain imaging and genetic data were available for almost 40,000 of the study participants.
The team found that both insufficient and excessive sleep duration was linked to impaired cognitive performance, such as processing speed, visual attention, memory and problem-solving skills.
Seven hours of sleep per night was the optimal amount of sleep for cognitive performance, but also for good mental health.
People experienced more symptoms of anxiety and depression and worse overall well-being if they reported sleeping for longer or shorter durations.
One possible reason for the association between insufficient sleep and cognitive decline may be due to the disruption of slow-wave – ‘deep’ – sleep.
Disruption to this type of sleep has been shown to have a close link with memory consolidation as well as the build-up of amyloid – a key protein which, when it misfolds, can cause ‘tangles’ in the brain characteristic of some forms of dementia.
Additionally, lack of sleep may hamper the brain’s ability to rid itself of toxins.
The team also found a link between the amount of sleep and differences in the structure of brain regions involved in cognitive processing and memory, again with greater changes associated with greater than or less than seven hours of sleep.
Having a consistent seven hours’ sleep each night, without too much fluctuation in duration, was also important to cognitive performance and good mental health and wellbeing.
Previous studies have also shown that interrupted sleep patterns are associated with increased inflammation, indicating susceptibility to age-related diseases in older people.
If you care about sleep, please read studies about new surgery that could benefit people with sleep apnea, and sleep can maximize vaccine effectiveness.
For more information about sleep, please see recent studies about sleep apnea linked to autoimmune diseases, and results showing sleep is the ‘crystal ball’ to predict Alzheimer’s disease.
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