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Miller School Study Links Sleep Duration with Brain Volume in Older Hispanic Adults

The work of principal investigator Alberto Ramos, M.D., M.S., underscores the importance of sleep studies for a group that has an elevated risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study led by researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine revealed that sleeping more than nine hours per night is associated with smaller brain and gray matter volume in older Hispanic adults.

Alberto Ramos, M.D., M.S., is the research director of the Miller School’s Sleep Disorders Program.

“This study reinforces the importance of sleep duration on brain aging, as well as cognitive impairments and physical health,” said Alberto Ramos, M.D., M.S., professor of clinical neurology and research director, Sleep Disorders Program, and principal investigator of the nationwide Sleep in Neurocognitive Aging and Alzheimer’s Research (SANAR) initiative. “Sleep studies are particularly important for Hispanics, who have up to four times the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, compared with non-Hispanic whites.”

Dr. Ramos was the senior author of the study, “Sleep Duration and Brain MRI Measures: Results from SOL-INCA MRI Study,” published recently in Alzheimer’s & Dementia®, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Miller School co-authors included Sonya Kaur, Ph.D., assistant professor in neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, and Christian Agudelo, M.D., assistant professor of clinical neurology.

Funded by the National Institute on Aging and National Heart Lung Blood Institute, the collaborative study included researchers from Wayne State University, San Diego State University, Harvard Medical School, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, University of North Carolina, University of Illinois, University of California, San Diego, and University of California, Davis.

Alzheimer's researcher Dr. Sonya Kaur
Sonya Kaur, Ph.D., (above) and Christian Agudelo, M.D., are co-authors of the study that examined sleep habits of Hispanic adults in relation to brain size.

Researchers recruited 2,334 Hispanic participants, ages 35 to 85, to undergo neuroimaging and subsequently self-report sleep duration. Using MRI, the researchers found increased sleep was associated with smaller brain volume and smaller regions of gray and occipital matter, especially in those 50 and older.

“One possible explanation for these findings is that long sleep duration is a marker for underlying cardiovascular or psychological conditions,” said Dr. Ramos, a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board.

Dr. Ramos noted that the new study complements his previous research showing that long sleep duration predicts cognitive decline, pointing to both functional (cognitive) and structural (volume) brain changes in this at-risk group.

“Our sleep disorder studies have significant clinical implications,” he said, adding that individuals who sleep for more than nine hours or have other issues, like insomnia, should talk with a primary care physician or see a specialist. “Don’t ignore a poor sleep pattern. It could be an indicator of an underlying medical problem that should be addressed now, rather than later.”

Tags: Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Alberto Ramos, sleep disorders