According to a recent study conducted by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, older adults who aren’t getting consistent nights of quality sleep could have trouble remembering things the next day.
“The night-to-night variability in the older study participants had a major impact on their performance in tests aimed at evaluating episodic memory,” said researcher Audrey Duarte.
“The association between sleep and memory has been known, but this study’s novelty is showing that the connection is particularly evident for older adults and black participants, regardless of age.”
A test in memory
The researchers had 81 participants involved in the study, 36 of whom were between the ages of 18 and 37 and 45 who were between the ages of 56 and 76.
For one week, participants donned wearable devices around their wrists that were able to track their sleeping patterns, while also allowing participants to sleep comfortably and normally in their own homes.
At the end of the week, each participant was asked to take part in a battery of memory tests, the majority of which required them to remember pairs of words they were shown earlier in the day. Participants also received an EEG at this time to measure brain waves.
The study revealed that sleep was the key to the older participants’ higher scores on the memory tests, as poor sleep was associated with poorer memory outcomes. The researchers also found that this trend was consistent for all black participants, regardless of age.
“The main factor that correlated with poor sleep quality in black participants was race-related stress,” said researcher Emily Hokett, who administered questionnaires to all participants to gauge their stress levels. “When participants had higher values on that measure of stress, they would also have higher sleep fragmentation, on average. We found a very significant relationship here.”
While the researchers hope to expand this research to larger, more diverse populations, they also encourage consumers of all ages to prioritize sleep if they want to enhance their memory skills and overall cognitive functioning.
“You can imagine that many people, students among them, may have variable sleep patterns based on staying up late to study and sleeping in on weekends to catch up,” said Duarte. “This data shows that may not be the greatest strategy for optimizing memory ability.”
Being strategic about sleep
Not getting enough sleep can come with some serious consequences, and even though many consumers try to catch up on sleep on the weekends, a recent study found that it can be nearly impossible to make up for lost sleeping time.
“The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure to reverse sleep loss induced disruptions of metabolism,” said researcher Kenneth Wright.
Though sleep is critical at any age, a bad night of sleep could increase the risk of falling for older people, further emphasizing the need for consecutive nights of quality rest.