Are you feeling old today? Chances are that it is your tired brain that is making you feel old! It turns out that if you are not sleeping properly then your brain will age.
A number of recent studies have found that bad sleeping patterns are connected to general mental deterioration as well as a number of brain related diseases and conditions like Alzheimer’s The first study found that sleeping too little or too much was the same as two years of brain ageing; a separate study found that people who had sleep apnea (where they sporadically stop breathing while they are sleeping) then they are twice as likely to develop mild cognitive difficulties and dementia when compared to people who sleep well. A third study showed that people who had serious daytime drowsiness were far more likely to have memory recall issues and reduced cognitive capacities.
The connection between sleep and brain function
The senior director at the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago, Heather Snyder, said that "Whether sleep changes, such as sleep apnea or disturbances, are signs of a decline to come or the cause of decline is something we don't know, but these three studies . . . shed further light that this is an area we need to look into more".
Study in depth
Of the three studies, the largest look at over 15 000 women who took part in the US Nurses’ Health Study. It found that people who slept less than five hours a day or more than nine hours a day had a lower average mental functioning than those people who slept an average of seven hours a night. In other words, too much and too little slept are equally bad for mental capacity. The findings state that they believe that too much or too little sleep was equivalent to aging two years. The researchers also found that people who had a two hour change in sleep duration during their middle age had a degrade brain function than those participants who had no change in the length of their sleep.
Study author Elizabeth Devore, who is an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said that "We went in with the hypothesis that extreme changes in sleep duration might be worse for cognitive function because they disrupt the circadian rhythm, so these results line up nicely, I think this gives us data to think about sleep- and circadian-based interventions being a route to address cognitive function."
What this tells us is that sleep is vital if we want to retain our cognitive capabilities as we age. For a long time mental decline was seen as an inescapable aspect of ageing but science has shown that a key component of cognitive decline is the amount of sleep we get and the consistency of sleep patterns over time. Aim to get about seven hours a night every night and you will not only feel better each day but your brain will age better as well.
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