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Less Sleep Ages Brain

Many older people report that they sleep less than they did before. Sleeping less could be due to numerous factors such as frequent urination, leg cramps, back pain, and worry about finances or health issues. A new brain imaging study indicates that when middle aged and older people sleep less, the normal structural changes that occur as we age happen slightly faster. In fact, the study shows that for the over-55 study participants, the brain changes could be seen accelerating with each hour of sleep they missed each night. This is a particularly important discovery that can help researchers learn more about cognitive decline, including dementia.

Researchers at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore examined the data of 66 older Chinese adults from the Singapore-Longitudinal Aging Brain Study. In the study the participants underwent structural MRI brain scans that measured brain volume, and neuropsychological assessments of cognitive function every two years. Their sleep duration was recorded through a questionnaire, and the researchers found that the participants who slept fewer hours showed evidence of faster brain shrinkage and declines in cognitive performance. Brain shrinkage and a decline in cognitive function are indicators of risk of dementia. Also, blood tests showed higher levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation. Lead author Dr June Lo concluded that the findings relate short sleep to a marker of brain aging.

Health professionals recommend that adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night for optimal performance and health.

If you have trouble sleeping throughout the night here are some tips that might help:

  • Turn off all electronics, including television, laptops and cell phones one hour before bed.
  • Refrain from eating and drinking two hours before bedtime.
  • If you are hungry, eat a banana before bed.
  • Install blackout curtains or heavy shades to block out light.
  • If noise is a bother, use a white noise machine or ear plugs.
  • Sprinkle lavender oil on your pillowcase to help you relax.
  • Take a hot bath with Epsom salts.
  • Ask a naturopath or herbalist at your local natural foods store for a recommendation of a sleep remedy.
  • Consider getting a more comfortable mattress and/or pillow.

Lights out, good night!


Lo JC, Loh KK, Zheng H, Sim SK, Chee MW. Sleep duration and age-related changes in brain structure and cognitive performance. SLEEP 2014;37(7):1171-1178.

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