The perfect amount of sleep for middle-aged brains

Sleep, Shakespeare informs us, is a remedy that “relieves the weary laborer and heals wounded spirits.”

Today, scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the ideal dose of sleep is seven hours for people who want to keep their minds healthy in middle age and beyond.

More or less is linked to poor mental performance, which goes against current NHS advice to get between seven and nine hours.

Researchers looked at data from almost half a million British adults, aged 38 to 73, who took part in the UK Biobank project – a study that monitored sleep patterns, mental health and well-being. being, as well as cognitive performance.

They found that both insufficient and excessive sleep were associated with slower processing speed as well as poorer visual attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities.

Seven hours was also found to be the sweet spot for good mental health, with people experiencing more anxiety and depression and worse general well-being if they slept for longer or shorter periods.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry, one of the study’s authors, said: “Getting a good night’s sleep is important at all stages of life, but particularly as we age.

“Finding ways to improve sleep in older adults could be crucial in helping them maintain good mental health and well-being and ward off cognitive decline, especially for patients with psychiatric disorders and dementias. »

The researchers said a possible reason for lack of sleep triggering cognitive decline could be a lack of slow-wave – “deep” – sleep, which plays an important role in consolidating memories.

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