We’ve all dealt with bouts of sleep trouble, but those with insomnia have consistent problems sleeping that spill over into the next day and can lead to increased feelings of depression, anxiousness, and of course, tiredness. Researchers are always learning more about the particular patterns of insomnia and how they can affect health in the long term.
According to a new study out of the University of Michigan, published in the journal Sleep, consistent trouble falling asleep (or prolonged sleep latency) is one insomnia symptom linked with cognitive impairment down the line.
Here’s what to know about the benefits of keeping your sleep latency in check and some strategies for doing so.
For this research, the Michigan team analyzed data from nearly 2,500 adults (ages 51 or older) that spanned 14 years. Participants reported how often they experienced insomnia symptoms in 2002, and in 2016, everything from their memory to language to processing speed was assessed.
As lead author of the study Afsara Zaheed explains in a news release, “By investigating associations between specific insomnia complaints and cognition over time using strong measures of cognitive ability, we hoped to gain additional clarity on whether and how these different sleep problems may lead to poor cognitive outcomes.”
Out of all the insomnia symptoms (others include waking up during the night, waking up too early, etc.), this study found that trouble falling asleep was the greatest—and only—predictor of cognitive impairment down the road. Researchers found that those who reported prolonged sleep latency in 2002 were more likely to display worse episodic memory (a type of long-term memory) and executive function (the ability to problem-solve and make decisions) at the 2016 check-in.
“These results,” Zaheed explains, “suggest that regular screening for insomnia symptoms may help with tracking and identifying people with trouble falling asleep in mid-to-late life who might be at risk for developing cognitive impairments later in life.”
It is worth mentioning that this association may also have something to do with depressive symptoms and vascular diseases in participants. Zaheed notes more research is needed to confirm whether insomnia intervention can actually help prevent or slow the progression of cognitive impairment.
How to fall asleep faster.
If you have chronic insomnia, visiting a doctor will be your best course of action for improving sleep. If you are usually a good sleeper but occasionally have trouble falling asleep, these techniques might be able to help:
- Have a consistent sleep/wake schedule (go to bed and wake up at the same time every day).
- Avoid alcohol and large meals before bed.
- Keep your bedroom around 65℉.
- Give yourself plenty of time to wind down.
- Try a sleep meditation.
- Get regular exercise.
- Prioritize stress management.
- Try using relaxing essential oils like lavender.
Sleep is an essential factor when it comes to our physical and mental health, so it’s important we try to get enough. And it all starts with how we set ourselves up for a great night’s rest.