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Older and middle-aged consumers should strive for seven hours of sleep, experts say

Experts say getting too much or too little sleep can negatively affect mental health

Older man sleeping
Photo (c) Maskot - Getty Images
Getting the right amount of sleep each night is something many consumers struggle with. Now, researchers from the University of Cambridge explored what we should be aiming for in terms of healthy sleep

According to their findings, older and middle-aged consumers should be trying for seven hours of sleep each night. This is especially important when thinking about long-term cognitive and mental health. 

“While we can’t say conclusively that too little or too much sleep causes cognitive problems, our analysis looking at individuals over a longer period of time appears to support this idea,” said researcher Jianfeng Feng. “But the reasons why older people have poorer sleep appear to be complex, influenced by a combination of our genetic makeup and the structure of our brains.” 

Healthy sleep impacts cognitive and mental health

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 500,000 people between the ages of 38 and 73 who were part of the U.K. Biobank. Participants completed several cognitive assessments and answered questions about their mental health, well-being, and general sleeping patterns. 

Ultimately, the team learned that there is a sweet spot when it comes to sleep. Based on this study, getting seven hours of sleep each night was found to be the best for the participants in terms of cognitive and mental health. 

Participants who slept too much and those who didn’t sleep enough had a higher risk for cognitive deficiencies and mental health struggles. They experienced difficulties with problem-solving, processing speed, visual attention, and general memory abilities. They were also more likely to struggle with overall well-being and report more symptoms related to anxiety and depression. 

Participants who were able to average seven hours of sleep each night had better cognitive and mental health outcomes. This healthy and consistent sleep routine helped improve overall well-being and was linked with better cognitive function and mental health.

The team explained that skipping or disrupting the deep sleep phase could explain this link between sleep and cognitive function. Without this phase of the sleep cycle, the brain may have a harder time releasing toxins. It could also cause a build-up of the amyloid protein, which is linked with several types of dementia. 

“Getting a good night’s sleep is important at all stages of life, but particularly as we age,” said researcher Barbara Sahakian. “Finding ways to improve sleep for older people could be crucial to helping them maintain good mental health and well-being and avoiding cognitive decline, particularly for patients with psychiatric disorders and dementias.” 

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