Poor sleep among African Americans associated with diminished cognitive function

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A new study found that low-income African American adults have a greater chance of having a more fragmented sleep cycle and longer periods of awakefulness after bedtime. This is associated with poor cognitive function, such as poor attention.

Researchers from the RAND Corporation, University of Pittsburgh studied people over a five year period. They found that those who slept less well had lower attention, executive function, and visuospatial abilities.

Researchers have found that improving sleep quality may help prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The June edition contains the findings. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Past research has demonstrated that African Americans have higher rates than white Americans of a range of sleep disorders, as well as earlier onset of Alzheimer’s or related dementias,” Wendy Troxel, lead author of the study and senior behavioral scientist at RAND (a non-profit research organisation), said. “Our findings suggest sleep problems may be a significant modifiable element that contributes to cognitive ageing.”

These findings add to growing evidence that poor sleep health may be a risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease. They also suggest that biobehavioral pathways that contribute to the disproportionate burden of dementias among African Americans and those with socioeconomic disadvantages may be important.

The new study included 216 participants aged 50 or older in a long-term RAND Study, called PHRESH. It was conducted in two predominantly African American neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. Researchers are examining a variety of environmental and social factors that impact individuals’ health.

Participants underwent sleep monitoring in 2013 and 2018. In 2018, participants were assessed for cognitive functioning and adjudicated of cognitive impairment.

The study showed that sleep efficiency (a measure for sleep fragmentation) was associated with several cognitive domains including attention, executive function, and immediate recall. There was no association between sleep duration and cognitive outcomes.

Troxel stated that although the sample size was small, these findings have important clinical and policy implications to prevent and intervene in sleep disorders. This is because sleep is a modifiable risk factor and can be influenced by individual and wider societal factors such as reduced access to healthcare and exposure to environments that can negatively affect sleep. “It’s important to focus on multi-level determinants—including sleep—to address the disproportionate burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in African Americans.”

Researchers believe that additional longitudinal studies are needed to address the issue. They should also use a life-course perspective to better understand the legacy of structural racism and the disproportionate burden of sleep problems and cognitive decline in African American adults.

The RAND-University of Pittsburgh team received funding from the National Institutes of Health recently to continue studying how stress exposure stemming form structural racism affects sleep and the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s in older African American adults.

Research suggests that seven hours of sleep is the ideal amount for old age and middle-aged people.

More information:
Wendy M. Troxel and colleagues, Sleep Disturbances, Sleep Changes, and Cognitive Function In Low-Income African Americans Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (2022). DOI: 10.3233/JAD-215530

Provided by
RAND Corporation

Poor sleep among African Americans linked to diminished cognitive function (2022 June 16).
Retrieved 4th July 2022

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Source: medical xpress.

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