The Perfect Amount of Sleep as We Age

Is there such a thing as an ideal amount of sleep? New research says that as we age, yes. There is a sweet spot for slumber. And just like goldilocks, it can’t be too much or too little; it has to be “just right.”

Scientists examined data from nearly 500,000 adults aged 38-73 years. Participants filled out questionnaires about their sleeping patterns, mental health, and well-being. They also took part in cognitive tests. Brain imaging and genetic data were available for some study participants.

Using this data, the team found that both too much sleep and too little sleep were associated with cognitive impairments such as problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving. Lack of sleep could hamper the brain’s ability to clear itself of toxins. And interrupted sleep has previously been shown to cause increases in inflammation and age-related disease susceptibility.

But even too much sleep may not be ideal. The team found a link between the amount of sleep and differences in the structure of brain regions involved in cognition, with greater changes associated with both too much and too little sleep.

So what is the sweet spot? Lucky number 7.

Having a consistent 7 hours of sleep each night was essential to cognitive performance and good mental health and wellbeing. And because the study was done on middle-aged and older people, it is especially recommended for this group.

The study’s authors concluded, “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.”

And when it comes to their recommendation, they say that “finding ways to improve sleep for older people could be crucial to helping them maintain good mental health and wellbeing and avoiding cognitive decline, particularly for patients with psychiatric disorders and dementias.”


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