The importance of a good night’s sleep can never be overstated, with the regenerative body process linked to a number of chronic diseases, including obesity and depression. Now a new study has found a connection between poor sleep and memory storage.
Sleep deprivation is connected with brain degeneration and memory loss in older adults, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley scientists. It boils down to a difference in the quality of sleep we get as we grow older, said UC Berkeley sleep researcher Matthew Walker in a statement.
“When we are young, we have deep sleep that helps the brain store and retain new facts and information,” Walker said. “But as we get older, the quality of our sleep deteriorates and prevents those memories from being saved by the brain at night.”
This bore out in the study that UC Berkeley conducted on 33 healthy adults without memory problems (18 participants were mostly in their 20s and 15 were in their 60s and 70s). The group learned 120 word pairs and were asked to recall them for researchers 10 minutes later, then again in the morning after a night’s rest. Brain activity scans of the participants found that the older adults’ quality of sleep was 75 percent lower than the younger group, and that their memory of the word pairs was 55 percent worse the next day.
During deep sleep, the brain generates slow brain waves that carry our memories of the day from the hippocampus, where memories are stored temporarily, to the prefrontal cortex for long-term storage. However as we get older, this type of sleep gets harder to come by, as adults have a harder time falling and staying asleep than they did when they were younger. This lack of deep sleep causes “medial prefrontal cortex gray-matter atrophy” and compromised pathways between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, leaving memories “stuck” in the short-term memory part of the brain, only to be rewritten by new ones.
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