A link between sleep deprivation and dementia in older people has been found by a new study.
The behaviour of research participants was found to vary according to how much sleep they had received.
In older volunteers, a shortage of good quality, or slow-wave sleep, was found to be linked to future memory problems.
This was subsequently linked to disappearance of neurons in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) area, which often occurs with age.
The study, which has been featured in the journal Nature Neuroscience, asked participants to memorise a list of words and recall them after having slept through the night.
Dr Matthew Walker, from the University of California at Berkeley, US, and his co-researchers said in the report: “These data support a model in which age-related mPFC atrophy diminishes SWA (slow-wave activity), the functional consequence of which is impaired long-term memory.”
He added that a lack of sleep in older people, with changes to the structure of the brain, could increase the risk of dementia in future years.
Dr Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, added that while the research had linked sleep loss to dementia, more studies should be carried out to draw a solid conclusion.
“Increasing evidence has linked changes in sleep to memory problems and dementia, but it’s not clear whether these changes might be a cause or consequence,” he said.
He also said that while the participants in the research did not have dementia, increased knowledge of how the brain alters as we get older could help medics find new ways to treat the condition.