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Get enough of this if you want to improve memory for up to 28 years

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Getting quality sleep when your young can boost memory when you're old

If you want to boost your memory and learning skills as you age, a new study suggests that maintaining good quality sleep when you're younger can result in better cognitive functioning for up to 28 years as you age.


A new study suggests that getting enough quality sleep when you’re younger results in a better memory when you’re older.

Researchers involved in the study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, say that people usually sleep less when they age. They also don’t have as much “slow-wave sleep” – a vital factor in boosting memory. The decline in length of sleep, combined with less quality sleep, can affect skills related to both memory and learning.

In an effort to further examine the effect of age-related sleep on memory and learning, researchers Michael Scullin, PhD, of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, TX, and Donald Bliwise, of the Department of Neurology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA, carefully reviewed over 200 studies conducted in the last 50 years that found a relationship between sleep quality and cognitive functioning.

The researchers then took data from the studies they reviewed and divided study participants into three different groups:
1) Young adult participants between the ages of 18 and 29;
2) Middle-age participants between the ages of 30 and 60; and:
3) Senior participants over the age of 60.

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From self-reports provided by study participants – including the average number of hours they slept each night, how long it took them to fall sleep, as well as how often they woke up in the middle of the night and how that affected their energy level the next day – the researchers found that young and middle-aged participants reported more and better quality sleep, which also appeared to improve their memory and other cognitive skills 28 years later.

Interestingly, study participants over 60, who also reported more and better quality sleep, did not appear to gain the same cognitive benefits later on as they aged into their 70s, 80s and 90s.

According to the research team, therefore, the most important years for maintaining good quality sleep for cognitive improvement later on is during young adulthood and middle age.

As Scullin explained, it all has to do with the difference between making an up-front investment and trying to make up for it later on.

But not all is lost if you try to catch up on quality sleep when you’re older. Indeed, previous studies on how sleep affects health have shown that sleeping well during later life may still have benefits, such as improving the health of your cardiovascular system, while also minimizing the risk and severity of developing other health conditions as you age.

SOURCE: Perspectives on Psychological Science. Sleep, cognition, and normal aging: integrating a half century of multidisciplinary research, Michael Scullin, Donald Bliwise, published January 2015 (doi: 10.1177/1745691614556680).