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Get some sleep!

29 January 2013

Get some sleep!

A good night’s sleep has been linked to how well adults remember the events of the following day but new research has shown that a lack of deep restorative sleep can significantly contribute to memory loss.

The study looked at 36 healthy young and older adults who were asked to learn a set of words.
Subjects were tested either immediately after learning the words or after a night of sleep.  The results showed that a particular part of the brain, which deteriorates with age, is directly linked to sleep quality.  Those who had the most deterioration in this area also had the poorest recall.  In fact, of the participants in their 70’s 55% performed worse in simple memory tests than those in their 20’s, even after the same period of rest.

The study sheds some light on why sleep does not benefit older people as much as those who are younger.

Professor Matthew Walker, principal investigator at the University of California’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, said, “How bad the quality of deep sleep the participants enjoyed the night before was directly predictive of how poor their memory would be the next day.  The older participants, who had much poorer quality deep sleep than the younger individuals performed on average 55% worse on memory tests.”

It is hoped that a similar link will be found between sleep and Alzheimer’s as it could create more options when considering treatment.

Professor Walker added, “The older you get, the worse the quality of the deep sleep you enjoy gets. We cannot change that.  This sleep is needed for the brain to press the record button and help store your memories. The silver lining is that we can stimulate the brain so people can enjoy more of this deep restorative sleep.  If sleep is a piece of the puzzle in Alzheimer’s, then if we can improve the quality of their sleep, we would also hope to improve their memory as well.”

He commented, “There are three factors that are already well known, as you get older you lose
memory, have increasingly bad sleep and suffer brain deterioration. We wanted to find out whether these three things are separate or inter-related and if so, what is the chain of command.  We established a relationship between brain deterioration in older people and the
decline in the quality of deep sleep. And the second finding is that lack of this deep sleep was directly linked to memory loss.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “This small study makes a link between structural changes in the brain, sleep quality and memory in old age, but further investigation is needed to confirm the nature of this association. Increasing evidence has linked changes in sleep to memory problems and dementia, but it’s not clear whether these changes might be a cause or consequence. The people studied here were followed for a very short period, and one next step could be to investigate whether a lack of ‘slow-wave’ sleep may
also be linked to a long-term decline in memory.”

He added, “The people in this study did not have dementia, but understanding the different factors that influence our brain health as we age could be crucial in the fight against the condition. With 820,000 people affected by dementia, it’s vital that we invest in research to find better treatments and ways to prevent the condition.”