Sleep Trouble

Why do many older people have trouble sleeping? It could be due to a loss of brain cells.

New research suggests that the loss of brain cells that act as a “sleep switch” may help explain why many seniors have trouble falling and staying asleep.

In fact, in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, sleep disruption can be especially severe. It can cause nighttime confusion and lead to patients wandering off.

According to HeathDay News, scientists analyzed data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, which includes nearly 1,000 people. These people enrolled in the project at age 65 and are being followed until they die. When they die, they’ve agreed to donate their brains to help the researchers.

The study found that elderly people and Alzheimer’s patients have a decrease in a particular type of neuron, and the loss of these brain cells is associated with sleep problems.

Senior author Clifford Saper says “On average, a person in his 70s has about one hour less sleep per night than a person in his 20s.”

Sleep loss and fragmented sleep are associated with a number of health issues, including thinking and memory problems, increased blood pressure and heart disease, and a tendency to develop type 2 diabetes,

Dr. Saper says it now appears that loss of these neurons may be contributing to these disorders as people age.

The researchers believe the findings may lead to new methods to help elderly people sleep better, and perhaps prevent further mental decline in people with Alzheimer’s.

To learn more about improving your “sleep health,” go to sleepfoundation.org.

I’m Dr. Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.