The UW School of Medicine has released the results of a multi-decade study showing irregular sleep patterns can cost your brain down the road.

Cognitive functions tied to regular sleep patterns.

  The multi-decade study was conducted with help from Dr. Abigail Schindler at the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System, Dr. Sherry Willis of the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Dr. Miranda Lim from Oregon Health & Science University and VA Portland Health Care System. Also, it was supported by the U.S. National Institutes on Aging.

It involved 826 adults whose average age was 76. The study, which lasted nearly two decades, had the people fill out five questionnaires, in which they were asked how long they had slept in the previous 7 days.

The study tested whether their sleep patterns were associated with how long they lived before experiencing what UW calls clinically relevant levels of cognitive impairment.

The subjects were grouped into three categories, ranging from sleeping less than 7 hours, to about 7 hours, or longer.

The short sleepers, says the study, had a 3.6-fold increase in cognitive issues. However, those whose sleep patterns changed the most year over year (such as averaging 7 hours, then 5 hours, then 6 and so on)  had even significantly higher levels of cognitive issues than the short sleepers.

 The exact neurological reasons for this are not known, but the study appears to indicate regular, adequate sleep plays a vital role in preserving brain functions. And, those whose sleep periods vary significantly, could be doing more damage to their brain.

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The UW researchers said it might have to do with toxic proteins that build up in the brain during waking hours and are cleansed while the body is asleep. Not having enough regular sleep might not allow the body to properly 'repair' itself.

UW Medical officials do say, that aside from healthy diet and exercise, people should also pay close attention to their sleep patterns to ensure better health.


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