New findings suggest that enjoying a good night's sleep may not prevent age-related brain changes that cause memory problems in the elderly.
The preliminary results of the latest study in a series conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggested that sleep does not enhance either motor skills or sequential learning in older adults.
Findings showed that a night of sleep nearly halves the number of mistakes young people make while a shuteye does not improve older people's memory.
The study also showed that the positive effects of sleep on memory reduce with age, said Rebecca Spencer and her student Laura Kurdziel whose study was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Washington, D.C.
“Our research suggests that changes in the aging brain, rather than the restorative effects of sleep itself, may underlie some of the memory problems that older adults experience,” Spencer said.
Researchers suggested that the reason older people have problems in sequential learning may be due to their fragmented sleep patterns.
Sleep cycles usually become shorter as people age while many elderly people wake up more during the night.
Therefore, although older and younger people get the same amount of sleep overall, the elderly spend less time per cycle in each sleep stage including Stage Two Sleep in which the day's events are played back and committed to memory.
“Older adults actually get more Stage Two sleep than young people so we initially thought they'd get more benefit from sleep on the motor task because it's so important in young adults,” researchers said.
“But it's fragmented by transitions to REM or wake, which may interrupt the memory processing.”