Sleep disruption explains age-related prospective memory deficits

implications for cognitive aging and intervention

Lara Fine, Michael Weinborn, Amanda Ng, Shayne Loft, Yanqi Ryan Li, Erica Hodgson, Denise Parker, Stephanie Rainey Smith, Hamid R. Sohrabi, Belinda Brown, Ralph Martins, Romola S. Bucks*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


The high prevalence of sleep disruption among older adults may have implications for cognitive aging, particularly for higher-order aspects of cognition. One domain where sleep disruption may contribute to age-related deficits is prospective memory—the ability to remember to perform deferred actions at the appropriate time in the future. Community-dwelling older adults (55–93 years, N = 133) undertook assessment of sleep using actigraphy and participated in a laboratory-based prospective memory task. After controlling for education, sleep disruption (longer awakenings) was associated with poorer prospective memory. Additionally, longer awakenings mediated the relationship between older age and poorer prospective memory. Other metrics of sleep disruption, including sleep efficiency and wake after sleep onset, were not related to prospective memory, suggesting that examining the features of individual wake episodes rather than total wake time may help clarify relationships between sleep and cognition. The mediating role of awakening length was partially a function of greater depression and poorer executive function (shifting) but not retrospective memory. This study is among the first to examine the association between objectively measured sleep and prospective memory in older adults. Furthermore, this study is novel in suggesting sleep disruption might contribute to age-related prospective memory deficits; perhaps, with implications for cognitive aging more broadly. Our results suggest that there may be opportunities to prevent prospective memory decline by treating sleep problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-636
Number of pages16
JournalAging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition
Issue number4
Early online date30 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • actigraph
  • executive function
  • older adults
  • prospective memory
  • Sleep

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