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Age and memory links to sleep quality

Margaret Jack  By Margaret Jack   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Last updated: Monday 28th January 2013

The potential links between age, memory ability and sleep quality have been studied by a US university, raising the possibility of advancements in the management of sleep disorders in the elderly, along with other related developments. University of California at Berkley researchers took thirty-six participants with an even split of ages between people in their twenties and their seventies, and tested their performance on memory tests after sleep.

It was shown that the area of the brain that is used for entering deep sleep, the medial prefrontal cortex, degrades with age and therefore impacts on sleep quality. Furthermore, memory consolidation is known to take place during deep sleep, creating stronger memories and recall ability after a good night’s sleep. The natural deterioration of the brain over time therefore creates something of a vicious circle where poor sleep gradually reduces memory.

The study results were that the younger participants, who experienced better quality sleep, performed better in experiments than their elderly counterparts.

Despite the negative effect of ageing, it was proposed that sleep quality could be potentially improved by electrically stimulating the medial prefrontal cortex, boosting the chances of achieving deep sleep and theoretically assisting memory consolidation. While this process was found to provide results in younger participants it wasn’t carried out on elderly subjects at this stage.

The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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