Poor sleep can leave people feeling groggy, disoriented, depressed, and not up for facing the day. And now there’s new evidence that insomnia can contribute to memory loss and forgetfulness among the elderly.

A study, the first of its kind, unveiled a new link between lack of sleep and memory loss. Researchers at the University of California, Berkley found that during sleep important brain waves are produced that play key roles in storing memories. These waves transfer the memories from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, a portion of the brain where long-term information is stored. Sleep loss can cause the memories to remain in the hippocampus and not reach the long-term storage area, found researchers. This can contribute to forgetfulness and difficulty remembering simple details, such as names.

Seniors are frequently plagued with deteriorated sleeping patterns that lead to shallow sleep and more awakenings, says those at the University of California. This can contribute to the prevention of memories being saved by the brain each evening.

This is not the first time sleep and brain health have been measured. A 2008 University of California, Los Angeles study discovered that people with sleep apnea showed tissue loss in brain regions that help store memories.

WebMD says imaging and behavioral studies show the role sleep plays in learning and memory and that lack of sleep can impair a person’s ability to focus and learn efficiently. Combine this with the necessity of sleep to make those brain wave connections for memories to be stored, and the importance of deep sleep is apparent.

Another study, published in the journal Brain, conducted by doctors at Washington University in St. Louis, linked poor sleep with early onset of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. Although poor sleep does not cause Alzheimer’s, it may increase brain amyloid proteins believed to be intrinsic to the disease. When slow-wave deep sleep is disrupted, levels of amyloid can grow and clog the brain. This is corroborated by data published in the journal Neurology. Getting deep sleep is important for reducing these proteins.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recognizes the difficulties elderly people may have in regard to sleep. The quality of deep sleep among older adults is often 75 percent lower than it is in younger people. Doctors can be cognizant of how sleep impacts memory and the onset of dementias and discuss insomnia treatment options with their patients.


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