Neurobiological processes that occur during sleep have a profound impact on brain health, especially as we get older, writes neuropsychologist Margaret O’Connor, PhD, ABPP.
Numerous studies have shown that structural and physiological changes that occur in the brain during sleep affect capacity for new learning, as well as the strength of memories formed during the day. Sleep promotes the consolidation of experiences and ideas; it plays a pivotal role in memory, and has been shown to enhance attention, problem solving, and creativity.
When we get older, we tend to feel sleepy earlier in the evening. This may result in waking up early in the morning as our sleeping hours shift. Older people have less REM and less slow wave sleep. Less slow wave sleep may impede memory consolidation in older adults.In addition to changes in sleep cycles, older people are increasingly vulnerable to sleep disturbances that cause poor sleep and low brain oxygen such as sleep apnea, a medical condition characterized by loud snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, and daytime fatigue.