Rhythm loss during sleep may affect memory for older individuals

A new finding seems to show that if the brain gets out of rhythm during sleep, it may negatively affect how much is remembered the next morning–even in people that do not have Alzheimer’s or another brain disease. The good news is, it might be fixable.

The study worked like this–a team of scientists had young adults learn sets of 120 words, then they wired their heads with electrodes and had them sleep. They measured and monitored their sleep and retested them the next morning. Their memories of the word pairs seemed to be connected to how well that they slept.

Then they repeated the same experiment with people in their 60’s and 70’s. Just like the younger adults, how much they remembered was determined by how well their brain waves kept the beat, which synchronizes the brain’s slow waves and sleep spindles. Slow waves occur every second or so and spindles occur more than 12 times a second.

When the slow waves and spindles are perfectly in sync, memory transfers are much more efficient. The word sets move from short-term memory to long-term memory, so those who sleep well did better on the tests in the morning. Good sleep is a crucial step in making long-term memories.

But with older brains, this syncing of waves and spindles can get off rhythm, causing less memory transfer. Even if the rhythm is off by as little as a tiny millisecond, then the storing mechanism in your brain doesn’t work as well. The researchers found that an aging brain doesn’t get to the deep sleep stage due to atrophy, reducing the chances of the brain storing information. People with more atrophy had less rhythm in the brain, which is a normal consequence of aging. And it can be worse in patients with Alzheimer’s or other preexisting memory conditions.

The good news is that it might be possible to re-synchronize the brain. One way would be to apply electrical or magnetic pulses through the scalp to boost brain waves and bring them back together in harmony.

The next round of tests will check this theory. If it works, it might reverse the decline in the memory of older adults and those with dementia. This process could even unlock the secrets of reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s.

These tests mark an exciting new step in sleep studies, proving not only that memories are preserved through sleep, but the knowledge can help to reverse certain memory problems. Wouldn’t it be great to wake-up and remember all 120-word sets when you are 100? Or perhaps just remember what happened yesterday and what you need when are at the grocery store? If our future is just in resyncing our brain waves, it might all be possible.

Dr. Clifford Brown and our experienced OSA team have a passion for helping clients who suffer from sleep issues. We are here to help identify sleep issues you may have and find a course of treatment that will help you get a better night’s sleep. Schedule an appointment with us at (631) 983-2463 today to find out how we can help you today.