The Importance of Sleep to Cognitive Health


There’s a saying that goes, when we’re young, we sneak out of bed to go to parties, and as we get older, we sneak out of parties to go to bed.

While we would never suggest ducking out of social engagements, it is true that as we age, it becomes more important than ever to get a good night’s sleep.

It’s more than feeling rested and rejuvenated in the morning (although that’s still vital); sleep is also critical to our cognitive health as we age.

According to studies, sleep can have a direct correlation to cognitive decline:

  • Individuals with insomnia were 27% more likely to develop cognitive problems.
  • Those with sleep inadequacy, or an insufficient amount of quality rest, were 25% more likely to develop dementia.
  • Sleep inefficiency, or spending too much time wide awake in bed, was associated with a 24% greater chance of cognitive decline.

While the correlation between sleep and cognitive decline is still not concrete, as the article goes on to note: “Sleep problems might lead to cognitive impairment by causing inflammation of tissue in the central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord… Sleep difficulties might also lead cognitive problems by causing or exacerbating so-called cerebral hypoxia, or a reduction in oxygen supply in the brain.

In addition, sleep problems could make the brain less efficient at removing waste and contribute to loss of brain cells or atrophy in key regions of the brain.”

How Long Should I Sleep?

In this case, the answer becomes a bit like Goldilocks – you need to find just the right amount.

As you might expect, people who get minimal sleep are at risk of cognitive decline – six hours or fewer is too little. But it’s also the case on the opposite end of the spectrum – sleeping too much, like 10 hours or more, is also unhealthy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 7 -8 hours per night for those 65 and older.

But it’s not just the amount of sleep – it also needs to be restful sleep. Sleeping eight hours, but getting up multiple times in that span, is not the same as sleeping all the way through the night. The body needs that downtime to help the brain recover and prepare for the next day.

To that end, it’s important to practice “sleep hygiene” – the process by which you get yourself ready to go to bed each night.

Sleep Hygiene For Older Adults

To help develop good sleep hygiene, there are a number of simple steps you can take to put yourself in the best position to have restful sleep and thus in the long-term, help protect your cognitive health.

Here are three simple things you can start doing if you haven’t already:

  • Develop a consistent sleep routine.

Try to go to bed around the same time every night, and then wake up around the same time every morning. Doing so will get your body on a routine and over time send signals to your body that it’s time for bed, and thus help you get a more restful sleep.

  • No screens in the bedroom at night.

Reading in bed is a great way to wind down your brain at the end of the day, but it’s better to read a physical book or magazine instead of on a device. The blue light of a phone or tablet can disrupt your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps with your sleep cycle.

  • Minimize distractions in the bedroom.

Ensuring your room is at a comfortable temperature is vital. A fan can help in that regard, and the ambient noise of the fan can provide a lulling soundtrack as you start to wind down. Use night lights that are bright enough so that you can see if you wake up in the night, but not so bright that they keep you awake. And make sure you have good curtains that keep the morning sunlight out of your room.

For more information about sleep hygiene, there is great advice provided by the National Institute on Aging as well as Kaiser Permanente.

If you or a loved one is living with cognitive decline, contact the Prestige community nearest you to talk to a team member on how we can help provide the support you need.