Aging and Poor Sleep

As we get older impaired brain function can can poor sleep.

Aging brains show a weakening in brain waves associated with deep sleep (right) compared with younger adults (left), with consequent memory impairments.

Deterioration of a specific brain region impairs sleep quality as people age, leading to poorer memory retention, according to research published today in Nature Neuroscience.

Aging is associated with the gradual loss of brain cells, sleep disturbances and declining memory function, but how these factors are related to each other has been unclear.

Neuroscientist Bryce Mander at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues recruited 33 healthy adults — 18 around the age of 20, and 15 ranging from late sixties to late seventies — all with normal mental function, and asked them to memorize a list of word pairs.

The participants were asked to recall some of the word pairs ten minutes later, then left to sleep overnight while the researchers recorded the electrical activity of their brains. The next morning, volunteers were asked to recall selected words from the list again while having their brains scanned.

In keeping with earlier studies, the older adults performed less well than the younger ones on the memory test, and showed significant reductions in the slow brain waves associated with deep sleep.

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