– Older people appear to need less sleep because they don’t become as exhausted
– But a new review has found they may have adjusted to a life without proper rest
– It’s believed they have the same drive for it, but their brain is less sensitive to it
– This has a mental price too, increasing the risk of dementia and other illnesses
Middle-aged people do not need less sleep than the young, but miss out on it because of damage to their brain.A scientific review has concluded that we cannot get away with less sleep as we age, as many experts believe. Older people appear to need less sleep because they are less exhausted after missing out on it, seeing less of a drop in their ability to carry out normal tasks than the young. But a review by US scientists has found they may simply have just adjusted to a life without proper rest.
A scientific review has concluded that we cannot get away with less sleep as we age, as many experts believe Instead, evidence shows, it is likely that older people have the same drive to sleep, but their brain is less sensitive to it.But this has a mental and physical price too, increasing the risk of dementia and other illnesses. Study author Professor Matthew Walker, of the University of California, Berkeley, said sleep loss was not due to a busy schedule or simply needing less sleep. Instead as the brain ages, neurons and circuits in the areas that regulate sleep slowly degrade, resulting in a decreased amount of non-REM sleep.
But non-REM deep sleep is widely known to play a key role in maintaining memory and cognition. Writing in the journal Neuron, Professor Walker said: ‘Sleep changes with ageing, but it doesn’t just change with ageing, it can also start to explain ageing itself. ‘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 favor one side – older adults do not have a reduced sleep need, but instead, an impaired ability to generate sleep. The elderly therefore suffer from an unmet sleep need.’
Older people have the same drive to sleep, but their brain is less sensitive to it, experts say The scientists said many older people don’t report sleep problems as their brains are accustomed to being sleep-deprived every day. But they have lots of chemical markers of deprivation and tests showed their brain waves in sleeping are disrupted.
The 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
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. Faster-than-average sleep deterioration may also be a key risk factor for diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
But Professor Walker said at the moment there are not many treatments available to tackle this decline in sleep quality apart from urging people to avoid caffeine and alcohol and keep a routine.
He said: ‘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. ‘We need to recognize the causal contribution of sleep disruption in the physical and mental deterioration that underlies ageing and dementia. ‘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.’ Advice on what to do when you can’t sleep.