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High Alt Med Biol. 2011 Fall;12(3):237-42. doi: 10.1089/ham.2010.1079.

Poor sleep quality predicts decreased cognitive function independently of chronic mountain sickness score in young soldiers with polycythemia stationed in Tibet.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Kunming General Hospital of PLA, Kunming, Yunnan Province, PR China.


Little is known about the association between poor sleep and cognitive function in people with polycythemia at high altitude. The aim of this study was to survey the sleep quality of individuals with polycythemia at high altitude and determine its association with cognitive abilities. We surveyed 230 soldiers stationed in Tibet (all men; mean age 21-52±4.30 yr) at altitudes ranging from 3658 to 3996 m. All participants were given a blood tests for hemoglobin level and a questionnaire survey of cognitive function. Polycythemia was defined as excessive erythrocytosis (Hb≥21 g/dL in men or ≥19 g/dL in women). Poor sleepers were defined as having a global Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index score (PSQI)>5. Cognitive abilities were determined by the Chinese revision of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Benton Visual Retention Test. Multiple linear regression analysis was used to determine the association between the PSQI and cognitive function. Logistic regression analysis was performed to determine the independent effect of sleep quality on cognitive function. The global PSQI score of enrolled participants was 8.14±3.79. Seventy-five (32.6%) soldiers were diagnosed with polycythemia. The proportion of poor sleepers was 1.45 times greater in those with polycythemia compared with those without polycythemia [95% (confidence interval) CI 1.82-2.56], and they had a statistically significant lower score for cognitive function. Multiple linear regression analysis showed that the global PSQI score was negatively associated with IQ (β=0.11, 95% CI -0.16 to -0.05) and digit symbol scores (β=0.66, 95% CI -0.86 to -0.44). Poor sleep quality was determined to be an independent predictor of impaired IQ [odds ratio (OR) 1.59, 95% CI 1.30-1.95] and digit symbol score (OR 1.18, 95% CI 1.07-1.31) in logistic regression analysis. The present study showed that for young soldiers with polycythemia at high altitude impaired subjective sleep quality was an independent predictor of decreased cognitive function, especially IQ and verbal short-term memory.

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