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Chronic insomnia can cause memory loss in middle age

A tired man sits at a desk and rubs his eyes.

June 14, 2019—Chronic insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. By some estimates, it affects 1 in 10 adults. People with it have trouble falling—or staying—asleep at least three nights a week for months on end.

Now a new study shows that this widespread sleep disorder can directly impair the memory of adults who are middle-aged and older.

Past studies have found links between chronic insomnia and problems like memory loss. But until now, a cause-and-effect relationship was hard to see. That's because other health issues common to people with chronic insomnia—such as anxiety and chronic pain—also affect thinking, learning and remembering.

When sleep stays away

Researchers examined sleep data on over 28,000 Canadian adults 45 and older. It was collected as part of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. They divided the adults into three groups:

  • Those with chronic insomnia.
  • Those with insomnia symptoms that didn't affect them during the day.
  • Those with normal sleep quality.

Each took a battery of tests evaluating their ability to think, learn and remember.

Adults with chronic insomnia did much worse than the other two groups on tests measuring declarative memory. That's the ability to recall items and events. And this remained true even when the researchers accounted for other health issues that might affect memory.

Future studies might explore whether memory can be improved by treating chronic insomnia, the study authors said.

Put insomnia to rest

Are you spending more time dreaming about a good night's sleep than getting it? Then check out these tips. They can help you get the shuteye you need to help protect your memory—and your health.

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