Thursday, May 5, 2022

New research reveals how much sleep you really need for optimal cognition and well-being

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Most of us have trouble thinking well after a bad night’s sleep – feeling light-headed and unable to perform as usual at school, university or work. You may find that you are not concentrating well or that your memory does not seem up to scratch. However, decades of poor sleep can potentially lead to cognitive decline.

Poor sleep also affects people’s mood and behavior, whether they’re toddlers or older adults. So how much sleep does our brain need to function properly over the long term? Our new research study, published in Nature Aging, provides an answer.

Sleep is an important part of maintaining normal brain function. The brain reorganizes and recharges during sleep. In addition to removing toxic waste products and boosting our immune system, sleep is also key to “memory consolidation,” which is the process of transferring new memory segments based on our experiences into long-term memory.

An optimal quantity and quality of sleep allows us to have more energy and a better well-being. It also allows us to develop our creativity and thinking.

Looking at babies from three to 12 months of age, researchers have found that better sleep is associated with better behavioral outcomes during the first year of life, e.g. B. the ability to adapt to new situations or regulate emotions efficiently.

These are important early building blocks for cognition, including “cognitive flexibility” (our ability to shift perspectives easily), and are linked to well-being later in life.

Sleep regularity appears to be linked to the brain’s “Default Mode Network” (DMN), which includes regions that are active when we’re awake but not engaged in a specific task, such as resting while our minds wander . This network includes areas important to cognitive function such as the posterior cingulate cortex (which is deactivated during cognitive tasks), the parietal lobes (which process sensory information), and the frontal cortex (which is involved in planning and complex cognition).

There is evidence that poor sleep in adolescents and young adults may be associated with changes in connectivity within this network. This is important because our brains are still developing into late adolescence and early young adulthood.

A disruption in this network can therefore have effects on cognition, such as B. impairment of concentration and memory-based processing, as well as more advanced cognitive processing.

Changes in sleep patterns, including difficulty falling and staying asleep, are significant hallmarks of the aging process. These sleep disorders are very plausible candidates for contributing to cognitive decline and psychiatric disorders in the elderly.

Our study aimed to better understand the relationship between sleep, cognition and well-being. We found that both insufficient and excessive sleep contributed to impaired cognitive performance in a middle-aged to elderly population of nearly 500,000 UK BioBank adults. However, we have not studied children and adolescents, and since their brains are developing, they may have different requirements for optimal sleep duration.

Our main finding was that seven hours of sleep per night was optimal, with more or less conferring benefits on cognition and mental health. In fact, we found that people who slept this much performed better on average on cognitive tests (including processing speed, visual attention, and memory) than those who slept less or more. Individuals also need seven hours of sleep without too much variation in duration.

However, we all react slightly differently to lack of sleep. We discovered that the relationship between sleep duration, cognition, and mental health was mediated by genetics and brain structure. We found that the brain regions most affected by sleep deprivation include the hippocampus, known for its role in learning and memory, and areas of the frontal cortex involved in the top-down regulation of emotions.

But while sleep can affect our brains, it could also work in reverse. Age-related shrinkage of brain regions involved in regulating sleep and wakefulness may contribute to sleep problems later in life. For example, it may decrease the production and secretion of melatonin, a hormone that helps control the sleep cycle, in older adults. This finding appears to support other evidence suggesting there is a link between sleep duration and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.

While seven hours of sleep is optimal for protecting against dementia, our study suggests that getting enough sleep may also help reduce dementia symptoms by protecting memory. This underscores the importance of monitoring sleep duration in elderly patients with psychiatric disorders and dementia to improve their cognitive function, mental health and well-being.

So what can we do to improve our sleep for optimal cognition and well-being in our daily lives?

A good start is to keep your bedroom at a good temperature and ventilation – it should be cool and airy. Also avoid drinking too much alcohol and watching thrillers or other exciting content before bed. Ideally, you should be in a calm and relaxed state when trying to fall asleep. Thinking about something pleasant and relaxing, like the last time you were at the beach, works for many people.

Technological solutions such as apps or wearable devices can also be beneficial for mental health, as well as for tracking sleep and ensuring consistent sleep duration.

Therefore, in order to enjoy life and function optimally in everyday life, you should monitor your own sleep pattern to ensure that you are getting seven hours of sleep on a regular basis.The conversation

By Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, University of Cambridge; Christelle Langley, Postdoctoral Researcher, Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Cambridge; Jianfeng Feng, Professor of Science and Technology of Brain-Inspired Intelligence, Fudan Universityand Wei Cheng, Young Principal Investigator of Neuroscience, Fudan University

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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