This fable may also apply to people’s sleep duration as they age. Like baby bears, older people who sleep “just right” — about six to eight hours of quality shut-eye on most nights — have delayed cognitive decline and strengthened their brains, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Baby Bears. Keep fast. Brain.
“Our study suggests that there is a middle range, or ‘sweet spot’, for total sleep time, where cognitive performance was stable over time,” study co-author Dr Brendan Lucy said in a statement. Lucy is Associate Professor of Neurology and Section Head of Washington University Sleep Medicine Center in St. Louis.
The study monitored the sleep of 100 older adults who were tested for evidence of cognitive decline and early Alzheimer’s disease. And found that only those who slept six to eight hours maintained brain function.
If a person sleeps less than five and a half hours, their cognitive performance is affected, even after controlling for factors such as age, gender and Alzheimer’s disease. This also applies to people on the other end of the sleep spectrum. If they slept more than about seven and a half hours, there was a decline in cognition.
David Holtzman, scientific director of the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders at Washington University School of Medicine, said: “Not only did people with shorter amounts of sleep but also those with longer amounts of sleep had greater cognitive decline.”
“This suggests that sleep quality may be important, as opposed to just complete sleep,” he said in a statement.
Aim for continual, quality rest
But getting good, restful sleep is more than a number. The quality of sleep you get when your head is on the pillow is also critically important. If you wake up frequently because of noise or sleep apnea or using the bathroom, it’s disrupting your sleep cycle—and depriving the body of restful sleep.
In stages one and two, the body begins to lose its rhythm. Heartbeat and breathing slow down, body temperature drops and eye movements stop. This prepares you for the next stage – a deep, slow-wave sleep, also known as delta sleep. This is the time when the brain repairs the body from the wear and tear of the day. During deep sleep, your body is literally restoring itself at the cellular level.
A chronic lack of sleep, therefore, affects your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems, and make decisions.
Unfortunately, as people age, they tend to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep without interruption, which can dramatically affect deep sleep and brain function.
how to improve deep sleep
The good news is that you can train your brain to achieve better sleep, thus giving your body more time to spend in both REM and deep sleep.
Experts say that going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, is a top tip for getting your mind on the path to better sleep.
The REM stage of sleep is a mild level of rest that can be easily interrupted, so strive for few sounds, low light, and cool temperatures in the bedroom. Remember: the bed should only be used for sleeping and sex. There is no room in the bedroom for TVs and other blue light emitting gadgets, such as smartphones and laptops.
Avoid fatty, spicy foods before bed so that gastric distress doesn’t wake you up when you’re dreaming.
Wine is another no-no. You may think it helps you to take a nap, but you are more likely to wake up at night as your body begins to process spirits, thus disrupting those beneficial stages of sleep.
Correction: We got the story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” wrong. It was Goldilocks who found Baby Bear’s bed to be “perfect”.
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