Forget the myth that you need less sleep as you get older. In fact, sleep may be even more important later in life than previously believed, according to a new study.
Researchers at Temple University's School of Medicine believe chronic sleep disturbances could speed up the onset of dementias and Alzheimer's disease in older adults. Chronic sleep disturbances can be caused by factors like insomnia, overnight work shifts, and other health conditions.
Wanting to determine the causation relationship between dementia and sleep disturbances, researchers studied two groups of mice in an eight-week pre-clinical study. Both groups of mice were at the human age equivalent of 40 years. One group was kept on an adequate sleep schedule while the other received excess light hours, significantly reducing their sleep time.
"At the end of the eight weeks, we didn't initially observe anything that was obviously different between the two groups. However, when we tested the mice for memory, the group which had the reduced sleep demonstrated significant impairment in their working and retention memory, as well as their learning ability," researcher Domenico Praticὸ said in a release.
The sleep-deprived mice were found to have more tangles in their brain cells. These tangles can disrupt signals between cells, leading to major brain impairment.
"This disruption will eventually impair the brain's ability for learning, forming new memory and other cognitive functions, and contributes to Alzheimer's disease," Praticὸ said.
Sleep deprivation is a major health concern nationally, with an estimated 50-70 million adults suffering from some sort of sleep disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Insufficient sleep can impede daily life activities by lowering concentration, blunting your memory, and even affect your focus while driving. Some studies have even shown that sleep deprivation in older men can increase their risk of premature death.
What's worse is, as you age, your sleep quality takes a hit and it's harder to fall and stay asleep. Aches and pains can keep older adults awake, as do some medications, and repeatedly having to wake up in the middle of the night.
The good news? There's something you can do about it. Improve your sleep hygiene by doing things like keeping a cool, dark room, use breathing techniques, and make sure to get out of bed if you can't sleep.