Sleep and Aging — Let’s Think About It!

It looks like sleep plays a key role in cognitive health for middle-aged and older adults.

That may seem obvious to those of us who value sleep, but there is persuasive new information in a large multi-national study that as one reporter puts it, “…middle-aged or older people who get six to nine hours of sleep a night think better than those sleeping fewer or more hours.”1

mature man and woman in bedThe study was published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and was led by the University of Oregon (UO) and supported by the National Institute of Health and the World Health Organization. It is a very large study: 30,000 subjects in six middle-income nations in a project that began in 2007. That’s for both men and women, 50 years old or older in China, Ghana, India, Mexico and the Russian Federation.

Among the results reported in the JCSM article2 are,

  • Individuals with intermediate sleep durations of 6-9 hours per night exhibited significantly higher cognitive scores than individuals with short sleep of 0-6 hours per night
  • Men generally had higher sleep quality and cognitive scores while women reported longer sleep durations
  • The study suggests that sleep measures may influence cognitive performance in older adults from different countries

Combine those observations with frequent reports that many older Americans experience an increase in the time it takes to fall asleep, a drop in the amount of REM sleep, an increase in fragmented sleep and insomnia 3 and we can see a need to get motivated for better sleep as we age!

It is never too soon or too late to check with your doctor about Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). You may not hear much about RLS and PLMD, but as reported by the National Sleep Foundation, the prevalence for RLS increases with age—about 10% of people in North America and Europe report RLS symptoms, and 45% of all older persons have at least a mild type of PLMD.4

And don’t forget insomnia or the possible impacts on sleep from various medications!

Actively seeking the best possible, most consistent quality and quantity of sleep is as critical to our health and wellbeing throughout our lives, and clearly more and more important as we age. I am particularly taken by the comment from J. Josh Snodgrass, professor of anthropology at UO and a key investigator on SAGE (“Study on global AGEing and adult health”), “Every single piece of evidence that people look at now as they are investigating sleep and different health associations is all showing that sleep really, really, really matters.”5

I couldn’t agree more.

1 Medical Xpress, June 16, 2014

2 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, June 2014

3 National Sleep Foundation

4 National Sleep Foundation

5 Medical Xpress, June 16, 2014