Advice Independent Living

How Sleep Loss Affects Memory For Seniors

Elderly man sleeping in bed
28
Jan '19

Many people believe they can get by on just a few hours of rest each night. The truth is that lack of sleep can cause serious health consequences, and a third of adults in the United States fail to get enough sleep.

For older adults, sufficient sleep plays a key role in overall well-being by decreasing the risk of falls, depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and weight gain. In addition, research has established a connection between sleep loss and memory among seniors.

What does the science show, and how can you get a better night’s sleep and protect your memory as you age?

Effects of Poor Sleep on Your Memory

Lack of sleep can leave you feeling depressed, disoriented and groggy. Research has found that insufficient sleep can decrease the growth of new neurons in your brain’s hippocampus, resulting in problems with decision-making, concentration and memory.

Research also has uncovered a link between sleep and critical brain waves that play an important role in memory storage. Older adults often suffer from worsening sleep, which can negatively affect those important brain waves. As a result, memory storage during the night deteriorates.

Poor sleep is also linked to the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While insufficient sleep is not known to cause Alzheimer’s, it may increase the levels of brain proteins that experts believe play a central role in the disease. To increase critical brain waves and reduce the suspect proteins, getting enough sleep — and especially deep sleep — is key.

Steps for Getting Better Sleep

If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may want to work with your doctor to identify the cause. Are you feeling stressed or depressed? Could a medical condition or a medication you’re taking affect your sleep quality or quantity?

After ruling out any medical reasons for your lack of shut-eye, consider the following actions to help improve your pre-sleep routine and your sleeping environment:

  • Limit use of backlit smartphones, tablets and other devices in the evening. The blue light generated by these devices can affect your melatonin production and subsequent sleep.
  • Ensure that your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet. Consider blackout shades and a white noise machine to mask extraneous light and sounds. Be aware of all light sources in your bedroom, including clocks and humidifiers.
  • Create your own bedtime ritual to signal your body that it’s time for sleep. Soft music, a warm bath and meditation or other relaxation techniques may help, but avoid sleep-inducing medications unless your doctor prescribes them.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, and get to bed earlier if you feel that you’re ready for sleep.

As you age, you may be tempted to spend as much time as possible connecting with others and engaging in activities you love. To help protect your memory, include rest among your daily priorities, and take steps to get the best sleep possible.

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