The role of sleep quality, trait anxiety and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis measures in cognitive abilities of healthy individuals

Javier Labad, Neus Salvat-Pujol, Antonio Armario, Ángel Cabezas, Aida de Arriba-Arnau, Roser Nadal, Lourdes Martorell, Mikel Urretavizcaya, José Antonio Monreal, José Manuel Crespo, Elisabet Vilella, Diego José Palao, José Manuel Menchón, Virginia Soria*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Sleep plays a crucial role in cognitive processes. Sleep and wake memory consolidation seem to be regulated by glucocorticoids, pointing out the potential role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the relationship between sleep quality and cognitive abilities. Trait anxiety is another factor that is likely to moderate the relationship between sleep and cognition, because poorer sleep quality and subtle HPA axis abnormalities have been reported in people with high trait anxiety. The current study aimed to explore whether HPA axis activity or trait anxiety moderate the relationship between sleep quality and cognitive abilities in healthy individuals. We studied 203 healthy individuals. We measured verbal and visual memory, working memory, processing speed, attention and executive function. Sleep quality was assessed with the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. Trait anxiety was assessed with the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. HPA axis measures included the cortisol awakening response (CAR), diurnal cortisol slope and cortisol levels during the day. Multiple linear regression analyses explored the relationship between sleep quality and cognition and tested potential moderating effects by HPA axis measures and trait anxiety. Poor sleep quality was associated with poorer performance in memory, processing speed and executive function tasks. In people with poorer sleep quality, a blunted CAR was associated with poorer verbal and visual memory and executive functions, and higher cortisol levels during the day were associated with poorer processing speed. Trait anxiety was a moderator of visual memory and executive functioning. These results suggest that subtle abnormalities in the HPA axis and higher trait anxiety contribute to the relationship between lower sleep quality and poorer cognitive functioning in healthy individuals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number7600
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume17
Issue number20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2020

Keywords

  • Cortisol
  • Memory
  • Sleep quality
  • Trait anxiety

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