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As we age, 7 hours of sleep at night is optimal

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Go to bed!

That’s the verdict after a new sleep study found seven hours of sleep every night to be optimal for brain function. The results of the study were published in nature.com.

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The research was done with 500,000 people from the UK Biobank — aged 38 to 73 — in part, to continue exploring how sleep duration, psychiatric disorders and dementia are all connected.

Those surveyed were middle-aged and older because changes in the quality and quantity of sleep are characteristic of the aging process.

Researchers from the U.K. and China compiled the data.

Participants, who self-reported, were asked about their sleeping patterns as well as their  mental health and wellbeing. They engaged in a series of cognitive tests.

For close to 40,000 of the participants, brain imaging and genetic data were also available.

Results show that too little and too much sleep both had a negative effect on cognitive ability and such things as visual attention, memory or problem-solving skills.

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Over or under-sleeping also contributed to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Exactly seven hours of sleep on a regular basis resulted in better memory and attention abilities and better mental health overall.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, of Cambridge University’s department of psychiatry, told the Guardian that every hour away from seven hours made everything worse.

“It’s very clear that the processes that go on in our brain during sleep are very important for maintaining our physical and mental health.”

A good night’s sleep is important at every age, but as people get older, added Sahakian, sleeping well becomes as important as exercise.

Professor Jianfeng Feng, of Fudan University in Shanghai, added, “while we can’t say conclusively that too little or too much sleep causes cognitive problems, our analysis looking at individuals over a longer period of time appears to support this idea.

“The reasons why older people have poorer sleep appear to be complex, influenced by a combination of our genetic makeup and the structure of our brains.”

Other studies have likewise concluded that seven hours of sleep is the magic number for older adults.


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