Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Little or poor sleep may be associated with worse brain function when aging

Research published today in PLOS ONE by researchers at the University of Warwick indicates that sleep problems are associated with worse memory and executive function in older people.

Analysis of sleep and cognitive (brain function) data from 3,968 men and 4,821 women who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), was conducted in a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Respondents reported on the quality and quantity of sleep over the period of a month.

The study showed that there is an association between both quality and duration of sleep and brain function which changes with age.

In adults aged between 50 and 64 years of age, short sleep (<6hrs per night) and long sleep (>8hrs per night) were associated with lower brain function scores. By contrast, in older adults (65-89 years) lower brain function scores were only observed in long sleepers.

Dr Michelle A Miller says “6-8 hours of sleep per night is particularly important for optimum brain function, in younger adults”. These results are consistent with our previous research, which showed that 6-8 hours of sleep per night was optimal for physical health, including lowest risk of developing obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke”.

Interestingly, in the younger pre-retirement aged adults, sleep quality did not have any significant association with brain function scores, whereas in the older adults (>65 years), there was a significant relationship between sleep quality and the observed scores.

Sleep is important for good health and mental wellbeing” says Professor Francesco Cappuccio, “Optimising sleep at an older age may help to delay the decline in brain function seen with age, or indeed may slow or prevent the rapid decline that leads to dementia”.

Dr Miller concludes that “if poor sleep is causative of future cognitive decline, non-pharmacological improvements in sleep may provide an alternative low-cost and more accessible Public Health intervention, to delay or slow the rate of cognitive decline”.



In 2012 it was stated that ‘the level of diagnosis understanding and awareness of dementia is shockingly low’ and, that the estimated cost to society is currently around £23bn

More recently, the Prime Minister said there was a need to develop more drugs and get them to patients more quickly. For that to happen, international collaboration and more funding for dementia research was needed.

The full article was published in PLOS ONE on 26th June 2014. Full details of this open –access research article can be found at

Dr Miller and Professor Cappuccio will be discussing these and other findings from their “Sleep, Health and Society Research Programme” at a free event, which is open to the public, on Friday 27th June 2014 at Warwick University. The event will take place at 2pm until 4:30 pm in the Rootes building. Please register at to attend.

Dr Miller and Professor Cappuccio will be available for interview.

Please call Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Senior Press and Communications Manager, University of Warwick,, 02476 150868, 07824 540863

PR 26th June 2014


The full article was published in PLOS ONE on 26th June 2014. Full details of this open –access research article can be found at

We have ISDN and Globelynx fixed camera on campus for radio or TV interviews.

To arrange an interview with Dr Miller or Professor Cappuccio, please contact Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Senior Press and Communications Manager,, 02476 150868, 07824 540863