Suboptimal Sleep Duration is Associated with Poorer Neuroimaging Brain Health Profiles

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Apr 26:2023.04.20.23288891. doi: 10.1101/2023.04.20.23288891.


Background: Cardiovascular health optimization during middle age benefits brain health. The American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7 recently added sleep duration as a key determinant of cardiovascular health becoming the Life's Essential 8. We tested the hypothesis that suboptimal sleep duration is associated with poorer neuroimaging brain health profiles in asymptomatic middle-aged adults.

Methods: We conducted a prospective MRI neuroimaging study in middle-aged persons without stroke, dementia, or multiple sclerosis enrolled in the UK Biobank. Self-reported sleep duration was categorized as short (<7 hours), optimal (7-<9 hours), or long (≥9 hours). Evaluated neuroimaging markers of brain health included white matter hyperintensities (presence and volume) and diffusion tensor imaging metrics (fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity) evaluated in 48 distinct neuroanatomical regions. We used multivariable logistic and linear regression models, as appropriate, to test for association between sleep duration and neuroimaging markers of brain health.

Results: We evaluated 39,502 middle-aged persons (mean age 55, 53% female). Of these, 28,712 (72.7%) had optimal, 8,422 (21.3%) short, and 2,368 (6%) long sleep. Compared to optimal sleep, short sleep was associated with higher risk (OR 1.11; 95% CI 1.05-1.17; P<0.001) and larger volume (beta=0.06, SE=0.01; P<0.001) of white matter hyperintensities, while long sleep was associated with higher volume (beta=0.04, SE=0.02; P=0.01) but not higher risk (P>0.05) of white matter hyperintensities. Short (beta=0.03, SE=0.01; P=0.004) and long sleep (beta=0.07, SE=0.02; P<0.001) were associated with worse fractional anisotropy, while only long sleep associated with worse mean diffusivity (beta=0.05, SE=0.02; P=0.005).

Conclusions: Among middle-aged adults without clinically observed neurological disease, suboptimal sleep duration is associated with poorer neuroimaging brain health profiles. Because the evaluated neuroimaging markers precede stroke and dementia by several years, our findings support early interventions aimed at correcting this modifiable risk factor.

Keywords: Brain health; Diffusion tensor imaging; Sleep; White matter hyperintensities.

Publication types

  • Preprint