While sleep disorders and disturbances are unpleasant merely for interrupting the most important part of our day, recent studies have also shown that many sleep problems can be early indicators of various cognitive and neurological disorders. That’s not to say all sleep problems will lead to neurological issues, but merely that researchers are beginning to find a link between the two. Now, a new study out of Sweden has found more evidence that individuals who suffer from sleep problems in middle age are much more likely to develop various cognitive impairments as they age than individuals who do not. Luckily, at least some of these sleep problems are fixable.

The study is an example of a meta-study, meaning it examined data from previous published research. After combing through four different studies involving the health data of over 5,000 adults over 50, researchers claim that individuals who experienced insomnia or nightmares in middle age were much more likely to experience cognitive decline as they aged. For many of these individuals, sleep problems continued into old age as these impairments developed.

Lead researcher Shireen Sindi of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden told Reuters that while studies like this sound terrifying for middle-aged individuals who suffer mild-to-moderate sleep problems, the good news is many of them are able to be corrected by lifestyle changes:

While sleep disturbances are an important risk factor for cognitive decline, the good news is that it is a modifiable risk factor. We can all have occasional sleeping difficulties, either due to high stress levels, caffeine or alcohol consumption or due to jet lag. However, if a person experiences sleep disturbances on a chronic basis such as difficulties falling asleep, waking up during the middle of the night, waking up too early in the morning, or suffering from poor sleep quality, it is important to seek help from a health professional.

Sleep science isn’t one of the hot health topics these days, but if more individuals took their sleep seriously throughout their lives, many late-life health issues could be avoided. Given that we’re all putting off sleep for the ever-increasing amount of digital distractions in our lives, are we all in for a bad time when we get older?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact him at [email protected]

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