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Over 50 and struggling to sleep? There is a reason

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A new study has revealed older adults are suffering from an “unmet sleep need” – and it could start as early as our mid-thirties.

The review published in the medical journal Neuron found as people age, we may be losing our ability to produce deep sleep – which could have a big impact on our mental and physical health.

“Every one of the major diseases that are killing us in first-world nations – from diabetes to obesity to Alzheimer’s disease to cancer – all of those things now have strong causal links to a lack of sleep,” co-author Matthew Walker says. “And all of those diseases significantly increase in likelihood the older that we get, and especially in dementia.”

Getting to sleep a nightmare

Many of us believe we simply need less sleep as we get older. This is not true.

As the brain ages, the neurons and circuits in the areas that regulate sleep slowly degrade – resulting in less non-REM sleep. As non-REM deep sleep is essential to memory and cognition, that’s a big problem.

So can you do anything to stop the process?

The authors recommend people follow standard advice, including not drinking coffee in the late afternoon, avoid sleep-disrupting drugs like alcohol and keeping a regular sleep schedule.

But don’t rely on sleeping pills to do the job for you. The researchers say these sedate the brain rather than restoring younger sleep patterns.

Proof a good night’s sleep really can be a lifesaver?

Lauren Broomham

Lauren is a journalist for villages.com.au, agedcare101 and The Donaldson Sisters. Growing up in a big family in small town communities, she has always had a love for the written word, joining her local library at the age of six months. With over eight years' experience in writing and editing, she is a keen follower of news and current affairs with a nose for a good story.


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