The bliss of sound sleep may be a mirage in old age. Unlike the youthful days, many seniors find nights becoming longish with recurring bouts of wakefulness and bathroom visits.
Disturbances considered, older people still need the minimum hours of deep sleep to maintain good health.
But many processes will not allow a sound sleep, and the causes include a change in brain waves and neuro chemicals.
The fragmented sleep conditions lead to waking up multiple times at night. It also contributes to other mental and physical ailments. Some of the medical conditions emanating from sleep fragmentation include depression and dementia.
Health Problems From Sleep Deficit
A research paper by UC Berkeley researchers noted that sleep deficit of the elderly is enhancing the risk of memory loss and other disorders, including mental and physical problems.
The paper has been published in the journal Neuron.
The researchers underscored that sleep is essential for all animals. Lead author Matthew Walker notes that sleep is vital to life as every major organ and regulatory system require sleep as a precondition to work properly.
"Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep," said Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
He deplored that great progress has been made in extending life span but health span has not been extended.
Many seniors are losing the ability to get deep sleep and are struggling with health consequences, noted co-author Bryce Mander, also from UC Berkeley.
Sleep problems are also induced by medical conditions and their treatments, noted Mander, and that poor sleep triggers many other diseases as well.
Key Reasons For Loss Of Sleep Among Old People
According to the researchers, one of the reasons of sleep loss includes a change in brain mechanisms in old age, which denies the required quantum of sleep.
The study expresses optimism that the new knowledge will help in developing sleep therapies to treat these issues.
In recent years, many studies have revealed the linkage between sleeplessness and diseases of heart, diabetes, and obesity.
The research notes that the trend toward fractured sleep starts from the early 30s and escalates into cognitive and physical ailments in middle age.
At the same time, Walker is cautioning against the use of pills to attain deep sleep as a substitute for natural sleep cycles.
"Don't be fooled into thinking sedation is real sleep. It's not," Walker cautions.
Impact Of Weakening Brain Waves
The researchers highlight that advancing age comes with a progressive decline of deep non-rapid eye movement, which is also called slow wave sleep. The brain waves connected with slow waves and additional bursts of "sleep spindles" become weak and affect the transfer of information and memories from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex where the storage area of the brain exists.
Another limiting factor from old age is lax regulation of neurochemicals such as galanin that hastens sleep and orexin that enhances wakefulness.
Mander notes that the hampered process disrupts the sleep-wake rhythm, and older adults feel tired during the day and restless at night.