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Struggling With Sleep As You Get Older? Study Says This May Be Why


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Michela Ravasio
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If you’ve ever felt like you don’t quite get the same quality sleep that you did when you were younger, you’re probably not imagining things. The sleep-age connection is well known and well studied, though the why behind it isn’t totally understood.

But new research published in the journal Sciencejust brought us closer to understanding what’s actually happening with sleep as we age. Here’s what the researchers found.

Studying brain activity as it relates to sleep.

To begin to understand how brain activity affects sleep as well as wakefulness, researchers studied the brain circuitry of mice. They were specifically looking at chemicals in the brain called hypocretins, which are created by neurons in the hypothalamus. (Us humans have them too!)

Previous research has indicated that hypocretins play a key role in wakefulness (aka feeling alert), so the researchers wanted know if they affect sleep too. They compared the brain circuitry of younger mice to older mice by stimulating specific neurons and recording what they observed.

What they found.

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The deep and restorative sleep you’ve always dreamt about*

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Tracking with their hypothesis, the team found that older mice had lost around 38% of the hypocretin chemical in their brains compared to the younger mice. Additionally, those remaining hypocretins in the older mice were found to be more “excitable,” which resulted in suboptimal sleep.

“The neurons tend to be more active and fire more, and if they fire more, you wake up more frequently,” study co-author and Stanford professor Luis de Lecea, Ph.D., said in a statement.

The team further hypothesized that this degradation of hypocretins may have something to do with the loss of potassium channels, which play a role in various aspects of cell functioning.

The team has more research to do as far as making these findings actionable, though they do hope this knowledge will lead to solutions that help older adults maintain high-quality sleep.

The bottom line.

This new study, while conducted on mice, could eventually provide important clues about how the aging brain affects sleep. Until we know more, these findings remind us to prioritize the aspects of sleep hygiene that are in our control by keeping a consistent sleep-wake schedule, taking sleep-supporting supplements, and avoiding screens too close to bedtime.*

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sleep support+

sleep support+

The deep and restorative sleep you’ve always dreamt about*

sleep support+

sleep support+

The deep and restorative sleep you’ve always dreamt about*

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(234)

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