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Memory lapses tied to poor sleep

January 29, 2013

Memory problems are common among the senior population, and a new study suggests that they may be tied to sleeping troubles. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that not only are older adults more likely to get less sleep than their younger counterparts, it likely has a bigger impact on their mental well-being. 

The study focused on a small group of younger adults, most of them in their 20s, as well as a similar sized cohort of subjects in their 70s. After administering a test focused on assessing memory, researchers monitored the participants' brain activity while they slept, then gave them a similar test once they woke up. The team found that older adults performed more than 50 percent worse on the test once they woke up when compared to younger adults. Experts say that while the results are still preliminary, their findings could open up a new way to treat memory loss in the senior population. 

"What we have discovered is a dysfunctional pathway that helps explain the relationship between brain deterioration, sleep disruption and memory loss as we get older --- and with that, a potentially new treatment avenue," said researcher Dr. Matthew Walker.

Getting enough sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, and there are a number of steps they can take to make sure they get enough shut-eye. Perhaps most importantly, older adults should make a point to stick to a sleep schedule, notes the Mayo Clinic. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help maintain a regular sleep-awake cycle.

Seniors can also improve their sleep by looking at what they eat during the day. Eating too soon before one goes to bed can cause problems, as can an excess of alcohol or caffeine consumption.