Disrupted sleep linked to disrupted memories
By Will Ockenden
Updated Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:57am AEDT
Photo: The study found younger people who got a good night’s sleep did much better than older subjects. (Peter Macdiarmid: Getty Images)
Related Story: Tired Australians risk accidents, mood disorders
Related Story: Study reveals miners’ mental health risk
Related Story: Study shows no link between cancer and shift work
Map: United States
A bad night’s sleep often leads to a bad day, and it may also hamper the ability to store memories, especially in older people.
Scientists have known for a while that as people age, the ability to create new memories gets worse.
Now a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience has found disruptions in sleep are hindering the creation of new memories.
The University of California Berkeley’s Bryce Mander is one of the study’s authors, and he says older people experience profound disruptions in their sleep and profound disruptions in their memory.
“If it’s true that sleep is a contributing factor to poor memory and aging, then it’s also something that can be targeted, unlike other factors,” he said.
“If you have a stroke or you have some other pathology, you can’t really reverse that.
Audio: Listen to Will Ockenden’s report (AM)
“But there are ways to target and enhance sleep and make sleep better, so that may be a more hopeful target for future studies and future interventions.”
Dr Mander says by tacking sleep problems, older people may again be able to retain information in the way that younger people can.
“You find their ability to retain memories, to retain facts that they had learnt before sleep, would be more like a younger person’s,” he said.
“They would probably not be fully restored in terms of their memory but I would expect that their memory would be better than it currently is.”
In the experiment, the scientists took a group of younger and older people, and gave them a list of words to remember.
They then put them in a lab where they slept the night. In the morning they had to recall the words.
Matthew Walker, another one of the researchers, says the younger people who got a good night’s sleep did much better.
“Because of that lack of deep sleep, the older adults were not able to essentially hit the save button on what they’d learnt the day before,” he said.
The challenge for scientists now is finding a way to help people sleep better so memories can be retained.
“Now we understand what’s going on we can start to translate that knowledge and that science into applicable practical questions, such as ageing and dementia,” Dr Walker said.
“Only when we’ve characterised our understanding of what goes on when the brain is working well can we then importantly ask questions of what’s going on when the brain is not working well.
“That’s the novelty of this study, I think, which is taking now what we’ve learned and starting to move it over into applicable questions in disease and ageing.”
Topics:sleep, sleep-disorders, health, brain-and-nervous-system, neuroscience, united-states
First posted Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:40am AEDT