START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good

How Your Sleep Habits Are Aging Your Brain

How Your Sleep Habits Are Aging Your Brain

Sleeping too much or too little can have a lasting impact on the health of your brain, according to a new study published in the May issue of The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

An investigation into the sleep habits of more than 15,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study found that those who snoozed for more than nine hours or fewer than five hours each night during mid-or later life encountered more memory troubles as they aged.

“Our findings suggest that getting an ‘average’ amount of sleep, seven hours per day, may help maintain memory in later life,” says lead study author Elizabeth Devore, ScD, an instructor in medicine at the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Also intriguing was the discovery that women whose typical sleep patterns deviated by two or more hours as they transitioned from mid-life to older age saw a decline in their memory capacity that had an impact equal to one or two years of additional age.

Devore and her colleagues feel their findings highlight the role of proper sleep hygiene in helping people preserve cognitive functioning in later life.

Why sleep is so important for your brain

The mind and body benefits of a solid night’s sleep are undeniable, yet science is just now beginning to understand precisely why this activity is so essential when it comes to learning and memory formation.

Experts believe that the lighter stages of sleep, referred to as rapid-eye-movement (REM), help a person process emotional memories and form connections between different bits of information, whereas slow wave sleep—the kind that occurs when an individual enters stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep—is especially important for helping information transfer from the short-term memory bank into the long-term memory bank.

An issue faced by many aging adults is a lack of slow wave sleep. One study from the University of California, Berkeley found that adults in their 60s and older experienced 70 percent less slow wave sleep than those in their late teens and early twenties. Regardless of whether a senior has a diagnosis of dementia, a lack of slow wave sleep can still cause their memory to falter.

While not all issues associated with aging and sleep can be remedied, there are a few simple steps that can help people of all ages catch some Zs:

  • Stick to a daily routine: Having a regular bedtime and wake up time helps keep your circadian rhythm stay in sync. Planning your evening mealtime so that it’s not within two hours of when you want to go to sleep is also advisable.
  • Get outside and get active: Moderate exposure to sunlight helps regulate the body’s production of melatonin—a hormone involved in controlling a person’s sleep-wake cycle. Exercising on a consistent basis has been shown to help people with sleep disorders to sleep better, though it may take a few weeks of regular workouts to see these benefits.
  • Avoid alcohol: While alcohol can help you drift off faster, it can also lead to more disruptions in your sleep patterns—inhibiting your ability to enter that coveted stage of slow wave sleep.

For more sleep-inducing strategies, check out these 11 Tips for the Best Sleep Ever


6 Myths About Aging and Sleep
Don’t Let Stress Get in the Way of a Good Night’s Sleep
How Alzheimer’s Impacts Sleep
Why Snoring Can Be Deadly
7 Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep Better
5 Strategies to Fight Inflammation

Read more: General Health, Health, Healthy Aging, , , , , ,

By Anne-Marie Botek, Editor

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love connects family caregivers and provides support, resources, expert advice and senior housing options for people caring for their elderly parents. is a trusted resource that visitors rely on every day to find inspiration, make informed decisions, and ease the stress of caregiving.


+ add your own
12:25PM PST on Dec 30, 2014

I sleep well, but the problem is to make myself go to bed early enough when at this time of year I love to wake before sunrise.

5:49AM PST on Nov 5, 2014

Thank you for sharing:)

2:48PM PDT on Sep 29, 2014

Some days I find I need more sleep than others.
Interesting article.

11:52AM PDT on Sep 27, 2014

Thanks for good information:)

10:37AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Find the sleep pattern that works for you. I find sometimes I need more sleep than other times. However, I always rest my body for at least 8 hours. It needs horizontal time too.

11:16AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

I am in trouble! I'll sleep for 8 hours 1 night and then I don't sleep again for 45 to 48 hours.! I tried sleeping pills a few years ago, but they made me feel dopey so I stopped taking them. Now, I just accept it.

4:28AM PDT on Jun 9, 2014


7:24AM PDT on May 29, 2014


6:56PM PDT on May 28, 2014

Solving sleep problems is much more complex than these suggestions. However, for a periodic lack of proper sleep perhaps these tips will work.

6:53AM PDT on May 28, 2014

Thank you for good info.

add your comment

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

Apple seeds are not a common food. People may accidently swallow one, but they don't eat them. I…

Wow I had no idea about the apple seeds Yikes

I vote for number one

Good advice, I hope many dog owners read this article.


Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.

site feedback


Problem on this page? Briefly let us know what isn't working for you and we'll try to make it right!