Knowing how important sleep is, have you ever wondered if you’re getting exactly what you need? Eight hours of sleep per night is touted as the optimal recommendation for everyone; but as we know, it’s hard to generalize when it comes to everyone’s different physiologies.
Just as children need more sleep than adults, sleep requirements change with age. The newest research from the University of Cambridge finds that the right amount of sleep in middle age is especially important for mental health and cognitive performance. That’s not always an easy feat, with changing sleep patterns and difficulty falling asleep becoming more common in middle age (usually due to the decreasing melatonin from aging).
As difficult as it may be, making sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep is one of the best ways to help the brain clear away waste products and improve functions in brain regions responsible for memory and cognitive processes. After following 500,000 adults (38 to 73 years old), researchers believe they’ve found the magic number for sleep in middle age: seven hours.
Less–or more–than seven hours increased difficulty in cognitive functioning and increased symptoms of mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression. What is it about seven hours of sleep that’s so beneficial? Researchers believe that it’s because over a seven-hour period, there is more opportunity for deep sleep which activates slow brain waves, an important part of encoding memories and removing harmful accumulations of extra proteins which can often go on to form harmful plaques that are tied to neurodegenerative diseases.
Outside of the seven-hour mark, more changes were seen in brain structure in the regions which involved memory and cognitive processing, highlighting just how important it is to get enough (and the right kind) of rest.
Yuzhu Li, Barbara J. Sahakian, Jujiao Kang, Christelle Langley, Wei Zhang, Chao Xie, Shitong Xiang, Jintai Yu, Wei Cheng, Jianfeng Feng. The brain structure and genetic mechanisms underlying the nonlinear association between sleep duration, cognition and mental health. Nature Aging, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s43587-022-00210-2