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Background Older persons with poor sleep are more likely to develop neurodegenerative disease, but the causality underlying this association is unclear. To move towards explanation, we examine whether sleep quality and quantity are similarly associated with brain changes across the adult lifespan. Methods Associations between self-reported sleep parameters (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index;PSQI) and longitudinal cortical change were tested using five samples from the Lifebrain consortium (n=2205, 4363 MRIs, 18-92 years). Analyses were augmented by considering episodic memory change, gene expression from the Allen Human Brain Atlas, and amyloid-beta (Aβ) accumulation (n=1980). Results PSQI components sleep problems and low sleep quality were related to thinning of the right lateral temporal cortex. The association with sleep problems emerged after 60 years, especially in regions with high expression of genes related to oligodendrocytes and S1 pyramidal neurons. BMI and symptoms of depression had negligible effects. Sleep problems were neither related to longitudinal change in episodic memory function nor to Aβ accumulation, suggesting that sleep-related cortical changes were independent of AD neuropathology and cognitive decline. Conclusion Worse self-reported sleep in later adulthood was associated with more cortical thinning in regions of high expression of genes related to oligodendrocytes and S1 pyramidal neurons, but not to Aβ accumulation or memory decline. The relationship to cortical brain change suggests that self-reported sleep parameters are relevant in lifespan studies, but small effect sizes, except for a few restricted regions, indicate that self-reported sleep is not a good biomarker of general cortical degeneration in healthy older adults.

Original publication




Journal article




Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory

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