It is a well-known fact that we sleep less as we age, and, unfortunately, scientists still have not found a way to combat this. What is even worse is that researchers cannot agree on why this happens in the first place. There is a theory that older people sleep less because they need less sleep, but there is another one that claims that they, for some reason, cannot get the necessary sleep.
During a recent study, scientists discovered that as we age, certain mechanisms in our brain undergo changes. As a result, we do not get the necessary amount of sleep. These findings may help in the future as scientists have more information about sleep when developing medication. Also, pre-existing therapies can be improved in order to better treat sleep-related issues.
Everyone knows that sleep is essential. Every animal on the planet sleeps in one way or another. During the process of evolution, it is most probable that the need for sleep developed alongside everything else. But when observed from a purely survival-based point of view, sleeping does not seem like the smartest move. Especially in the wild, as when you sleep you are unconscious, you do not bring anything to the table in terms of foraging for food or socializing, and you are highly susceptible to being attacked by predators. Observed practically, sleep was supposed to be the first thing that is discarded. Observed scientifically, that was impossible due to the great importance that sleep has when it comes to health and longevity. Every part of our body, every organ, requires a certain amount of sleep in order to function properly.
Recent studies have shown that there is a definite connection between lack of sleep and the development of various diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The biggest issue here isn’t that we do not receive enough sleep but it is that we do not receive enough quality sleep or deep sleep as it is more commonly known.
The general consensus amongst scientists is that as we age, we lose some of our neural connections, and our brain and body do not pick up on sleepiness queues. This has been tested and proven on laboratory mice. While clinical testing on humans is yet to be done, it is expected that similar results are true for humans as well. Basically, the signal that triggers sleepiness is the same for every age group; the only difference is in the reaction of the receptors. As we get older, the receptors get worse at picking up these signals. So, the sleep queues are the same, it is just that our brain is worse at picking up on those queues. A good way to describe it is that it is similar to a weak antenna. It does not matter if the signal is there when the antenna is too weak to pick it up.
Until recently it was thought that sleep deprivation was a byproduct of aging, but these recent findings point to the fact that aging is sped up by the lack of sleep.
Sadly, there is no easy solution for this. Currently, researchers are looking into developing drugs that can repair the affected receptors, or better yet prevent their decline. But they are still a long way away from developing one that works.
So far, doctors have been prescribing sleeping pills to older people in order to combat this but this only puts people into a sedated form of sleeping, it does not improve its quality. For now, the best way to combat this is to not drink caffeine in the afternoon, sleep in a cold room, and exercise regularly.