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Changes to Brain Make Getting a Good Night’s Sleep Harder, Study Suggests

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Having a tough time getting a decent night’s sleep? It may be related to changes to your brain over time, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway recently studied the brains of 147 Norwegian adults whose average age was 54. They took scans at the beginning of the study and then again when the study completed, about 3.5 years later.

Their major finding: as the brain’s grey matter starts to deteriorate with age, it becomes much more difficult for a person to acquire a good night’s sleep. The research showed that a full night’s sleep was still possible, but getting a truly restful sleep did become more challenging.

The researchers’ discovery is directly related to changes in the brain. As a person ages, their frontal cortex begins to shrink, while other parts of the brain deteriorate. The study showed that this shrinkage and deterioration affected reasoning, planning, memory, and problem-solving skills.

“Sleep disturbance is such a common symptom among the general population, and it often becomes worse as you age,” noted Anton Porsteinsson, director of Alzheimer’s disease care, research and education at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “There is growing data to suggest that sleep disturbance may be a risk factor for poor outcomes in terms of brain cells and other medical issues as well.”

Still, health experts don’t believe older adults should give up on getting a good night’s sleep. Instead, they must focus on implementing strategies that will help them get the best sleep possible, like removing smartphones and tablet computers from the bedroom, avoiding emails right before bedtime, being more physically active during the daytime, and avoiding coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages in the evening.

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