Study Finds Sleeping “Sweet Spot” Helps Older Adults Maintain Cognitive Performance

If your sleeping patterns are irregular, it might be time to make changes in favor of your health. According to a study published in the journal Brain, a sleeping “sweet spot” could help older adults to maintain their cognitive performance.

The study — which was conducted over multiple years — involved 100 participants who were tested for cognitive decline and early Alzheimer’s disease, whose sleep-wake activities were monitored for over four to six nights. Additionally, participants slept with an EEG device monitor on their foreheads.

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As the Washington University School of Medicine noted, 88 of the 100 participants had no cognitive impairment, 11 were mildly impaired, and one had mild cognitive impairment. The average age of participants was 75.

The results found that those who slept five and a half hours to seven and a half hours retained brain function. Meanwhile, those who slept over or under the ideal time amount had their cognitive performance suffer. The results were also adjusted for factors such as age, sex, rapid-eye movement (REM) and education.

Associate professor of neurology and director of the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center Brendan Lucey, MD — who was also the lead author of the study — stated that it has been challenging connecting sleep and various stages of Alzheimer’s.

Even with this new data, Lucey said there are still questions left to be answered, such as how adults’ brain performances would respond if methods were implemented to ensure longer sleep for shorter sleepers.

“An unanswered question is if we can intervene to improve sleep, such as increasing sleep time for short sleepers by an hour or so, would that have a positive effect on their cognitive performance so they no longer decline? We need more longitudinal data to answer this question.”

Alzheimer’s can have severe affects on sleep patterns. Alzheimer’s Association states that patients spend 40% of the night awake — either laying restlessly, wandering around, or yelling — and often sleep for a decent portion of the day as a result. Sleep loss in Alzheimer’s patients can also speed up brain damage as well – which makes these findings so much more crucial towards preserving cognitive functionality.

Alzheimer’s isn’t the only disease that can harm the sleep of older adults. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), sleep apnea, insomnia, and movement issues such as REM sleep disorder or restless leg syndrome (RLS) can all be possible hinderances.

However, the NIH shows there are plenty of ways to help you get a better night’s sleep. Following a regular sleeping schedule is important for your body’s internal clock. Keeping your bedroom at comfortable temperatures while using low-lighting closer to your bedtime is also suggested.

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Remember to not use screens — such as your TV, phone, or other devices — when it’s close to your bedtime, as the lights could affect your sleep. Thinking of consuming a certain beverage or meal as a night-time snack? That’s also a no-no – consuming soda, coffee, alcohol, and large servings could force you to stay awake due to the energy boosts they provide.

There are other factors to consider, as well. The quality and comfort of your pillows, mattresses, and blankets can greatly influence how much sleep you receive. If they end up causing discomfort, you’ll be twisting and turning for hours.

It’s also not just older adults that should have an ideal sleep time frame. The Sleep Foundation recommends that six to 13 year olds should have around nine to 11 hours of sleep, 14 to 17 year olds should have eight to 10 hours, and adults from 18 to 64 should have eight to nine hours.

While trying to find that sweet spot may be challenging, the end goal of better brain behavior and overall health makes the effort more than worth it.