Good-Quality Sleep When Young Helps Memory Later In Life, Study Says

Nearly 200 Studies Point To The Same Conclusion About Skimping On Sleep

Younger people may pride themselves in their ability to stay up all night and still function the next day, but a new study suggests they rethink their poor sleeping habits.

It's common for people, especially the young, to think that they can make up for sleep deficits later on, but Baylor University researchers say you should think of your nighttime slumber the same way you think about saving for your future. "It's the difference between investing up front rather than trying to compensate later," study author Michael K. Scullin of the Baylor University Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory said in a statement.

The researchers investigated around 200 different studies, dating back to the late '60s, which looked at the link between sleep and brain function, and addressed things like sleep deprivation, naps and interventions. They categorized subjects as young (ages 18 to 29), middle-aged (ages 30 to 60) and older (ages 60 and up).

Their analysis, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, noted how the benefits of adequate sleep when you're young and middle-aged can help you reap rewards for decades to come. Deep sleep helps the young mind by using the slow-brain-wave state to store and process memories so they can be recalled later. They found that by middle age, people are more apt to take naps during the day, which also protects the brain from decline, so long as you don't use naps to make up for lost sleep at nighttime.

But by the time you're older, many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, due to things like medications that disrupt sleep patterns, illnesses and pain, as well as less activity to tire you out during the day.

"We came across studies that showed that sleeping well in middle age predicted better mental functioning 28 years later," Scullin said. "People sometimes disparage sleep as 'lost time,' but even if the link between sleep and memory lessens with age, sleeping well still is linked to better mental health, improved cardiovascular health and fewer, less severe disorders and diseases of many kinds."

As Scullin said, many younger people will burn the candle at both ends, with demands from work, school and family, and so won't make sleep a priority. But it's important that they're aware of the many risks involved with getting inadequate amounts of sleep. One UK study found that getting just six hours of sleep for a week, less than the recommended seven to nine hours, can cause changes to hundreds of genes in your body. There are also countless studies that link sleep deprivation to dangerous diseases like obesity, a weakened immune system and even an increased risk for death. Yikes.

So seriously, we've said it before and we'll say it again, make sure you catch your Z's -- and not just on the weekend.

Before You Go

Oatmeal with milk and honey
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When To Eat: 90 minutes before bedtime
How Much: 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon honey

Heart-healthy oatmeal may already be your breakfast of choice, but it might be time to flip flop your routine. Oats are one of the few foods that contain melatonin, a.k.a. the “Dracula of hormones,” which helps you fall asleep each night by relaxing the body after the sun sets. Melatonin production decreases as we age, which is why more seniors suffer from insomnia and why it’s important to combat sleeplessness by eating melatonin-rich foods.

Add some warm milk, which contains melatonin and tryptophan – the amino acid found in turkey that makes us sleepy – and stir in a teaspoon of honey, which is a natural relaxant – and you’ve got a perfectly healthful bedtime treat to help lull you off to dreamland.
Banana with almonds
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When To Eat: 90 minutes before bedtime
How Much: 1/2 medium banana and 23 almonds (approx. 1 ounce)

Chock full of potassium, which stimulates slow-wave sleep (a.k.a. deep sleep) according to new research, and sleep-inducing magnesium, bananas are the veritable superstars of sleep! Couple them with almonds also loaded with magnesium and tryptophan, and you’ve got a delicious snack that will help you get to sleep and stay asleep.
Tart cherry juice
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When To Drink: One glass in the morning and one glass two hours before bed
How Much: 8 ounces

Similar to oats, sour cherries contain the highest amount of naturally-occurring melatonin compared to any other food. In fact, research from the Journal of Medicinal Food shows that drinking a glass of tart cherry juice before bed can combat age-related insomnia by helping your body drift off to sleep.
Rice and beans
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When To Eat: With dinner or at least 4 hours before bedtime
How Much: 1/2 cup cooked rice and 1/2 cup cooked beans

Legumes, like cow peas and lentils, are rich in magnesium, folic acid, potassium, and B vitamins, all of which help regulate your circadian rhythm. Adding a high glycemic carbohydrate, like Jasmine rice, will help you fall asleep faster thanks to a sugar spike and subsequent fall. In other words, the rice will help you hit the hay, and the legumes will keep you asleep throughout the night
Cheese and crackers
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When To Eat: At least 30 minutes before bedtime
How Much: 2/3 ounce cheese and 2-3 small crackers

If you’re looking for a light snack, a few bites of cheese coupled with whole-grain crackers can help manage sleep cycles by boosting serotonin and melatonin levels. Even though they’re in the same family, cheese doesn’t induce shut-eye quite like warm milk, but its high calcium and tryptophan content help the body de-stress and relax while stimulating melatonin production.

Research conducted by the British Cheese Board even found that eating cheese may induce vivid dreams. What’s more, the type of cheese you eat may determine what kind of dream you have. For example, cheddar lovers’ more likely dream of celebrities, while smelly Stilton fans experience more bizarre and wacky dreams.
Sweet potato with dark, leafy greens
When To Eat: At least 90 minutes before bed
How Much: 1 medium sweet potato and 1/2 cup cooked greens

When sweet potatoes and dark, leafy greens – like Swiss chard and spinach – combine, they create a potassium powerhouse that will help your body get that super restorative deep sleep it needs to stay active during the day.

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