Latest News » Study: Brain cell loss a factor in senior sleep troubles

Senior sleep issues have been linked to a loss of brain cells.

Some seniors experience difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. New information surrounding the role of brain cells as they relate to sleep sheds some light on just why this might be. 

Analysis of the information from the Rush Memory and Aging project shows that sleep problems could be related to a loss of brain cells. The study, published in the journal Brain, analyzed brains that had been donated for the purpose of this research. 

As detailed in an article for Healthday News, ventrolateral preoptic neurons are associated with difficulty sleeping. When the brain begins to lose these neurons it can cause sleep trouble, particularly among older adults and individuals with Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Clifford Saper, the study's senior author and chairman of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said that compared with a person in their 20s, a person in their 70s gets one hour less sleep per night. 

According to Dr. Saper, the loss of neurons could be contributing to the sleep loss issues that many seniors face. He also tells the Huffington Post that, "the more of these cells you lose from aging, the harder time you have sleeping."

"These results may, therefore, lead to new methods to diminish sleep problems in the elderly and prevent sleep-deprivation-related cognitive [mental] decline in people with dementia," Dr. Saper said in a press release.

Upon examining them, Dr. Saper found that brains of people who had experienced greater levels of "sleep fragmentation" contain fewer neurons, while those who slept with fewer interruptions had more neurons. It was also found that those with Alzheimer's had the smallest number of neurons and experienced more disrupted sleep. 

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