The Connection Between Aging, Insomnia and Memory Loss

May 30, 2020 | BY PHS Staff

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder at any age, but about half of adults over the age of 60 have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It may seem that poor sleep is just an annoyance that can be remedied with a nap or over-the-counter sleep aid, but untreated insomnia can lead to big sleep deficits and impact a senior’s physical and mental health.

In fact, new findings reveal a connection between sleep and memory, and shed light on why forgetfulness is common in the elderly. Alzheimer’s in home care can go a long way toward combating memory loss. But first, let’s explore the connection between aging, insomnia and memory loss.

Insomnia in Seniors

Insomnia can be short-term or long-term. Short-term insomnia only lasts for a few weeks or a month, but chronic or long-term insomnia goes on for much longer. Symptoms include:

  • Taking more than 45 minutes to fall asleep
  • Waking up several times throughout the night with the inability to fall back asleep
  • Waking up early with the inability to fall back asleep
  • Waking up feeling tired with the inability to function properly during the day

Short-term insomnia can stem from big life changes, such as moving, changing jobs or the death of a loved one. In today’s world, even stress over COVID-19 and the loss of connection with family can cause temporary fluctuations in sleep. Long-term insomnia usually stems from something more serious, such as depression, anxiety, chronic stress, chronic pain, certain medical conditions and even neurological conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

If insomnia is not treated and addressed, it can affect your senior loved one’s mental and physical health, and this includes their memory. That’s because uninterrupted quality sleep is an important part of memory formation. When someone has trouble sleeping at night, minor symptoms like mood swings and fatigue can get worse and cause lapses in memory. Sleep patterns, in fact, have been known to show a direct link to Alzheimer’s disease formation.

To worsen matters, those with Alzheimer’s have difficulty sleeping anyway, which exacerbates symptoms and actually accelerates the progression of the disease. While sleep problems are common in older adults, they don’t have to be. Seeing a doctor is critical if insomnia is long-term. Without a good night’s sleep, seniors are at more of a risk for developing other serious health issues.

Poor quality sleep in the elderly can lead to significant brain deterioration and memory loss, says one study by the University of California, Berkeley. This study was the first of its kind to confirm a link between memory loss and poor sleep. Researchers found that during sleep, critical brain waves are being produced that play a role in how we store memories. The brain waves send memories from one part of the brain (hippocampus) to another part of the brain that stores long-term memories (the prefrontal cortex).

When you add poor quality sleep to the mix, memories can remain stuck in the hippocampus without being able to get to the prefrontal cortex. The result? Forgetfulness and difficulty remembering names. Alzheimer’s care can help.

Beyond the Brain

Sleep does more than just help to sharpen your mind. Studies reveal that sleep has an effect on  physical reflexes, fine motor skills, and even judgment. One study revealed sleep-deprived individuals were more likely to believe they were right when they were indeed wrong. Another interesting finding — after just one night of good sleep, or even a high-quality nap, people performed better.

Here’s how you can instill good sleep habits to avoid memory loss:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Get regular exercise but don’t do it too close to your bedtime. Allow at least three hours between exercise and sleep.
  • Stay away from caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, especially right before bed.
  • Unwind before going to sleep, by taking a warm bath, reading a book, or sipping caffeine-free tea.
  • Create an optimal sleeping environment, such as making the room dark, comfortable and cool.

Contact Preferred HealthStaff

To learn more about our Alzheimer’s home care, please contact us toll free at 866-943-9791 or in Fairfield 717-642-8500.