Older People Need as Much Sleep as their Younger Peers, but their Brains Won’t Let Them

By Lisa Franchi on April 10, 2017

It’s not because they don’t need much of it. But older people do not get more sleep than younger people because their brain is less sensitive to it – a sign of brain deterioration.

A new study review by American researchers suggests that older people seem to have adjusted to a life without proper rest. That means they have the same drive to sleep, but their brain is less sensitive to it. Unfortunately, this takes a huge toll on their health, increasing their risk of illnesses, including dementia and heart disease.

According to the study, sleep loss experienced by most older adults was not due to a busy schedule or simply needing less sleep. What happens is that neurons and circuits in the areas that regulate sleep slowly degrade, resulting in a decreased amount of non-REM sleep – widely known to play a key role in maintaining memory and cognition.

’Sleep changes with ageing, but it doesn’t just change with ageing, it can also start to explain ageing itself.’ says Professor Matthew Walker, of the University of California, Berkeley, author of the study.

’There is a debate in the literature as to whether older adults need less sleep, or rather, older adults cannot generate the sleep that they nevertheless need.

’The evidence seems to favour one side - older adults do not have a reduced sleep need, but instead, an impaired ability to generate sleep. The elderly therefore suffers from an unmet sleep need.’

The study notes that changes in sleep quality start as early as the mid-thirties, well before people notice that they are shifting to a more ’early-to-bed-early-to-rise’ schedule or are waking up in the middle of the night more often. Meanwhile, women seem to experience far less deterioration in non-REM deep sleep than men, even though the changes to REM sleep are about the same in those two genders.

’Sleep decline is one of the most dramatic physiological changes that occurs as we age, yet that demonstrable change is not part of the health conversation today.’ Prof Walker said. ’More attention needs to be paid to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disturbance if we are going to extend health span, and not just lifespan.’

The study was published in the journal Neuron.

Source of this article:

Older people need as much sleep as those who are younger - but don’t get it due to brain deterioration

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