You must beware! Midlife insomnia may pave the way for mental health issues in retirement

You must beware! Midlife insomnia may pave the way for mental health issues in retirement

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Helsinki: The Helsinki Health Study at the University of Helsinki investigated the development of insomnia symptoms in midlife and their effects on memory, learning ability and concentration after retirement. The study’s follow-up period was 15 to 17 years and it found that long-term insomnia symptoms and later cognitive functioning have a clear link.
“The results indicate that severe insomnia symptoms were associated with poorer cognitive function in those who received a statutory pension,” says doctoral researcher Antti Etholen, describing the study results.

The study also found that memory problems and problems with learning ability and concentration increased as insomnia symptoms continued. Previous research has shown that there are a number of mechanisms that may explain how sleep can affect cognitive functioning. What makes the recently published study exceptional is the long follow-up period for insomnia symptoms.

Among other things, the study demonstrated that while insomnia symptoms improved over the years, cognitive functioning was also found to be better at retirement age compared to persistent problems. According to the researchers, long-lasting insomnia symptoms should be considered as risk factors for poor cognitive functioning.

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“Based on our findings, early intervention addressing the symptoms of insomnia or measures to improve sleep quality would be warranted,” says Professor Tea Lallukka.

There are many ways to improve sleep quality, including regularity of sleep pattern, appropriate temperature and brightness of sleep environment, and optimal timing of physical exercise, coffee consumption and food. However, Lallukka believes that intervention studies are still needed to determine the effects of measures to promote good sleep.

“In further studies, it would be interesting to shed more light, for example, on whether treating insomnia can also slow down the development of memory impairment,” says Lallukka. She points out that only self-reported memory symptoms could be considered in the present study.

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