There is a common belief that aging causes sleep problems and sleep quality reduction. Many of us could observe the fact that aging people do not sleep well, and very often they do not need a lot of sleep to carry out their daily tasks and activities. However, according to the findings of a recent study of American scientists, the hypothesis about sleep quality reduction connected with aging is nothing but a myth. The study was conducted by a group of experts the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania and involved interviewing over 150,000 American people aged above 40 who were selected randomly for this very scientific research on sleep quality.
Certainly, the main focus of the study was evaluating sleep quality of all modern people aged 50 and above. This research went far beyond measuring sleep duration and the degree of sleep disturbance which is a usual scheme for most of the researches in this field. Scientists based their evaluations and assumptions mainly on personal opinions and personal satisfaction of the participants of all ages from their sleep, instead of relying totally on scientifically received and measured data. At the same time, not only these factors were taken into account when making conclusions and coming up with the findings. People’s race, general health condition, psychological condition, income, social status, and other related issues were analyzed as well.
As numerous previous scientific researches have shown, such factors as poor health and all sorts of stresses are the main things that stand behind our common sleep problems and disturbances. Since aging is closely linked to health problems and numerous related stresses, there was a hypothesis that aging is connected with significant sleep quality reduction. However, the present study found out that aging people over 50 are getting more and more satisfied with their sleep quality. The lowest number of complaints about their sleep came from those participants who were in their early and late 70s. Instead, the experts were surprised to learn the people in their 40s and early 50s are constantly reporting about experiencing serious sleep problems and seep quality reduction. Thus, middle age should be actually considered critical age as to sleep and sleep quality.
The findings evoked great interest of numerous sleep researchers around the world. Some experts claim that actually aging people can experience clear sleep quality reduction, they just may not feel disturbed or bad about it. Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, a known sleep experts and a Professor of Sleep and Physiology at the Surrey Sleep Research Center commented on the findings as the following: “We have got to get away from all these myths about ageing – many people are very content with their sleep.” He said that the findings could be distorted with a lack of objectivity in individual opinion of the participants, or depend on time and the mood of the participants. For example, he said, feeling or anger or joy could influence a person’s perception of sleep.
Sleep problems and various sleep disorders like insomnia (chronic or occasional), sleep apnea, inability to rest at night, inability to follow a normal sleep cycle, inability to fall asleep on time, etc., are very well familiar to most of modern people. Our busy and stressful business life, numerous problems in our families and in our friend’s life, sedentary lifestyle, bad habits and unhealthy nutrition, taking certain medications, our ailments and health conditions – those are the most common causes of our chronic sleep disorders and sleep problems. Disturbed sleep can be named as a curse of our times, and millions of people around the world are affected by sleep disorders, to one or other extent.
There is a great deal of risks and dangers connected with chronic sleep disorders. In particular, inability to sleep and have enough of rest leads to low energy levels, chronic fatigue, stresses and psychological problems. In addition, as a recent study has shown, disturbed sleep can be associated with early signs of such a serious mental disorder as Alzheimer’s disease. This health condition reveals itself with severe memory loss and mental functions decline, but it is usually linked to aging. According to the findings of a group of scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, disturbed sleep, inability to sleep properly at night and spending most of night time awake can signal about brain plaque formation which is a sign of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
It was found out before that a chronic lack of sleep causes beta-amyloid marker build-up in the brains of animals. A group of specialists led by Yo-El Ju, MD, started their experiments in order to confirm or dis-confirm the idea that the same thing happens in human brain when we suffer from disturbed sleep. Ju and his colleagues invited about 100 volunteers to participate in their study, at that, 50 per cent of those participants had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were asked to use an actigraph for 14 days, which could help the scientists to measure sleep quality of the experiment participants. Also, they were asked to fill up special questionnaires and their sleep dairies. Finally, their level of amyloid beta-42 in cerebrospinal fluid was thoroughly monitored by the scientists in the lab.
It turned out that after just 2 weeks of experiment, 25 per cent of those who suffered from chronic sleep problems and disrupted sleep, started developing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. On average, the participants spent about 8 hours sleeping, but those who reported about sleep problems could sleep no more than 6 – 6.5 hours every night. Those of the participants who used to wake up 5 and more times a night, demonstrated the worst results and showed the signs of development of amyloid plaques in the brain. ”Further research is needed to determine why this is happening and whether sleep changes may predict cognitive decline,” Ju commented on the work of his colleagues. The findings of American scientists were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in New Orleans earlier this spring.