Ciro della Monica, Sigurd Johnsen, Giuseppe Atzori, John A. Groeger and Derk-Jan Dijk.
Sleep and its sub-states are assumed to be important for brain function across the lifespan but which aspects of sleep associate with various aspects of cognition, mood and self-reported sleep quality has not yet been established in detail.
Sleep was quantified by polysomnography, quantitative Electroencephalogram (EEG) analysis and self-report in 206 healthy men and women, aged 20–84 years, without sleep complaints. Waking brain function was quantified by five assessments scheduled across the day covering objectively assessed performance across cognitive domains including sustained attention and arousal, decision and response time, motor and sequence control, working memory, and executive function as well as self-reports of alertness, mood and affect. Controlled for age and sex, self-reported sleep quality was negatively associated with number of awakenings and positively associated with the duration of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, but no significant associations with Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) measures were observed.
Controlling only for age showed that associations between objective and subjective sleep quality were much stronger in women than in men. Analysis of 51 performance measures demonstrated that, after controlling for age and sex, fewer awakenings and more REM sleep were associated significantly with better performance on the Goal Neglect task, which is a test of executive function. Factor analysis of the individual performance measures identified four latent variables labeled Mood/Arousal, Response Time, Accuracy, and Visual Perceptual Sensitivity. Whereas Mood/Arousal improved with age, Response Times became slower, while Accuracy and Visual perceptual sensitivity showed little change with age.
After controlling for sex and age, nominally significant association between sleep and factor scores were observed such that Response Times were faster with more SWS, and Accuracy was reduced where individuals woke more often or had less REM sleep. These data identify a positive contribution of SWS to processing speed and in particular highlight the importance of sleep continuity and REM sleep for subjective sleep quality and performance accuracy across the adult lifespan. These findings warrant further investigation of the contribution of sleep continuity and REM sleep to brain function.
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