Do you think 8 hours of sleep is the best?  Think again!  |  DW |  05.05.2022

Do you think 8 hours of sleep is the best? Think again! | DW | 05.05.2022

Most of us have taken it as a rule: a full night’s sleep means eight hours for an adult. But this may not be true once people reach a certain age.

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and Fudan University in China found that seven hours of sleep may be the ideal amount of sleep for middle-aged and elderly people.

In a study published in the journal aging natureResearchers said they found that seven hours of sleep is best for cognitive performance and good mental health.

Researchers examined data from nearly 500,000 participants between the ages of 38 and 73 and found that not enough – but also excessive – sleep is linked to poorer cognitive performance and poor mental health.

Study participants reported their sleep patterns and also answered questions about their well-being and mental health. They completed a number of cognitive tasks that tested processing speed, visual attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. And those who got seven hours of uninterrupted sleep performed better across the board.

However, there is one caveat: 94% of the participants were white, so it is unclear whether the results hold true for people of color and other racial or cultural backgrounds.

Another important factor is consistency. The best results were seen in people who showed little fluctuation in their sleep patterns over long periods of time and who stuck out by seven hours.

In other words, four hours of sleep before a large meeting cannot be “compensated” with 10 hours of sleep the following night.

Interrupted sleep: the risk of dementia

“Getting a good night’s sleep is important throughout life, but especially as we age,” said Barbara Sahakian, a professor at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study.

The researchers said that the lack of sleep is likely to impede the process of detoxification of the brain. They also say slow-wave or deep sleep may be responsible for cognitive decline.

When deep sleep is disturbed, it affects memory consolidation and this can lead to a buildup of amyloid, a protein that, if it fails to work as it should, can cause “tangles” in the brain that are characteristic of some forms of dementia.

Inadequate or excessive sleep may be a risk factor for cognitive decline in old age.

“While we cannot definitively say that too little or too much sleep causes cognitive problems, our analysis appears to support this idea,” said Jianfengfeng, a brain scientist and professor at Fudan University. “But the reasons older adults experience poor sleep appears to be complex, influenced by a combination of genetic makeup and the structure of our brains.”

The length of sleep affects the structure of the brain

The researchers also looked at brain imaging and genetic data, but that data was only available for fewer than 40,000 participants.

Those data showed that the amount of sleep can be linked to differences in the structure of brain regions such as the hippocampus, which is the center of memory and learning in the brain, and the precentral cortex responsible for carrying out voluntary movements.

Since the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — diseases of aging that come with cognitive impairments — have been associated with sleep duration, the researchers said more work in the field of sleep science is necessary.

“Finding ways to improve sleep for older adults can be crucial in helping them maintain good mental health and wellness and [their] Avoiding cognitive decline, especially for patients with psychiatric disorders and dementia.

Editing: Zulfiqar Abani

2022-05-05 20:30:16

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