Sleep and cognitive performance: Cross-sectional associations from the UK Biobank

Simon Kyle, Claire E. Sexton, Bernd Feige, Annemarie Luik, Jacqueline Lane, Richa Saxena, Simon Anderson, David Bechtold, William Dixon, Max Little, David Ray, Dieter Riemann, Colin A. Espie, Martin Rutter, Kai Spiegelhalder

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Objective: The relationship between insomnia symptoms and cognitive performance is unclear, particularly at the population level. We conducted the largest examination of this association to date through analysis of the UK Biobank, a large population-based sample of adults aged 40-69 yrs. We also sought to determine associations between cognitive performance and self-reported chronotype, sleep medication use, and sleep duration. Methods: This cross-sectional, population-based study involved 477,529 participants, comprising 133,314 with frequent insomnia symptoms (age: 57.4 ± 7.7 yrs; 62.1% female) and 344,215 controls without (age: 56.1 ± 8.2 yrs; 52.0% female). Cognitive performance was assessed through a touchscreen test battery probing reasoning, basic reaction time, numeric memory, visual memory and prospective memory. Adjusted models included relevant demographic, clinical and sleep variables. Results: Frequent insomnia symptoms were associated with cognitive impairment in unadjusted models, however these effects were reversed after full adjustment, leaving those with frequent insomnia symptoms showing statistically better cognitive performance over those without. Relative to intermediate chronotype, evening chronotype was associated with superior task performance, while morning chronotype was associated with the poorest performance. Sleep medication use and both long (>9hrs) and short (<7hrs) sleep duration were associated with impaired performance. Conclusions: Our results suggest that after adjustment for potential confounding variables, frequent insomnia symptoms may be associated with a small statistical advantage, which is unlikely to be clinically meaningful, on simple neurocognitive tasks. Further work is required to examine mechanistic underpinnings of an apparent evening chronotype advantage in cognitive performance, as well as impairment associated with morning chronotype, sleep medication use, and sleep duration extremes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-91
Number of pages7
JournalSleep Medicine
Early online date14 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • insomnia
  • cognitive performance
  • chronotype
  • sleep duration
  • sleep medication


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