Our bodies need to sleep in order to perform rejuvenating functions like muscle growth, protein synthesis and tissue repair. We also need sleep for mental functions that involve learning and memory. In addition, sleep appears to play an important role in helping us manage stress and emotions.
As we age the amount of time spent in good quality, continuous sleep decreases and adults may lose their ability to get deep, restorative sleep.
The University of California, Berkeley researchers, argued in an article that the unmet sleep needs of the elderly elevate their risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders.
“Sleep duration, how much time you spend asleep, decreases as you get older,” says study co-author Bryce Mander of the University of California Berkeley. Your sleep gets more fragmented as you get older.
Perhaps even more distressingly, the changes in sleep quality start 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. The loss of deep sleep starts as early as the mid-thirties. “It’s particularly dramatic in early middle age when it starts to begin,” says Mander.
“Sleep changes with aging, but it doesn’t just change with aging; it can also start to explain aging itself,” says review co-author Matthew Walker, who leads the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” says Walker. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”
More attention needs to be paid to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disturbance if we are going to extend healthspan and not just lifespan.
Further research is needed to investigate the temporal sequence of events underlying the association between sleep quantity and quality and cognitive function and decline over time.
The study was published in the journal Neuron.