We all know that getting poor or insufficient sleep makes us feel awful the next day. When sleep deprivation becomes a chronic issue, poor physical health is sure to follow. However, more and more research is showing that the effects of poor sleep aren’t just physical. The human brain needs sleep to function properly, and many sleep disorders can affect the brain’s performance and even change the way brain cells communicate. Now, a new study published in the neurobiology journal Neuron claims that the connection between sleep and memory is deeper than previously thought and can be affected by age.
The new study was carried out by the University of California Berkeley Neuroscience Institute. Researchers observed the brain wave activity of individuals 65 or older, looking for the synchronizations that are typical of deep sleep phases where memories are processed and stored. According to one of the study’s authors Matthew Walker, the results show that deep sleep is an essential part of the brain’s ability to save memories:
What we found is that in young, healthy adults, the deep-sleep brain waves are perfectly synchronized in time and that synchronization helps you essentially hit the ‘save button’ on your memories. But as we get older those deep-sleep brain waves become mistimed. So you can’t cement those memories into the brain so you end up forgetting the next morning rather than remembering.
The implications of this research are two-fold: one, it is becoming clearer and clearer that getting enough sleep each night is one of the best choices you can make for your overall mental health; and two, that as we age, this becomes increasingly important. Sleep scientists already have found links between age-related disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and sleep; could sleep be one of the overall deciding factors in long-term mental health? It certainly appears that way.