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August 26, 2016
MEMORY LOSS IS OFTEN seen as an inevitable part of aging. The CDC states that about 13% of seniors, defined as those age 60 and older, self-report memory problems and confusion. However, not all memory problems are age-related, and it can be scary to find yourself struggling to recall information.
While there are certainly medical conditions that can affect the memory, the solution may be as simple as getting enough shut-eye. A growing body of research indicates that there is a strong correlation between sleep deprivation and memory loss.
There are several different types of forgetfulness. While some are caused by a medical problem, others are commonplace occurrences.
The following memory disorders require medical attention. Talk to your physician if your memory loss symptoms are cause for concern.
There’s mounting scientific evidence that sleep and memory are closely related: sleep plays a critical role in memory formation and cognitive function. Healthy sleep includes consistency – a regular bedtime – and adequate rest. Most adults need seven or eight hours per night.
Your body cycles through sleep phases in 90-minute periods, including light, deep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. While you sleep, the brain sorts through short-term memories and decides which are worth keeping, which should be converted to long-term memory, and which should be discarded altogether. After all, it’s not practical to remember every tiny detail of your day.
Light and deep stages prepare the brain for absorbing new information, so it’s just as important to get enough sleep before studying as it is to sleep before an exam. During the REM stage, the brain links new memories to existing memories, improving recall. The National Institutes of Health reports that if you sleep four hours or fewer, initial learning ability drops by 40 percent, while the recall strengthening process may not occur at all.
Age-related memory loss appears to be related to declining sleep quality. The deep sleep stage starts to decline in our late 30s and drops off significantly after age 60. Researchers recognize the value of the connection between sleep and memory. They are currently pursuing ways to regain deep sleep lost to age, so greater strides in memory retention may be on the horizon.