June 11, 2009

Seniors deal with sleep deprivation better

Older adults cope with sleep deprivation better than young adults, U.S. researchers said.

The older adults -- ages 59-82 years -- showed more resiliency to total sleep deprivation than young adults -- ages 19-38 years -- on a range of measures of cognitive performance, including working memory, selective attention/inhibition, and verbal encoding and retrieval. Performance of young adults significantly declined on all three tasks during total sleep deprivation while that of older adults did not change significantly.

Study leader Sean Drummond of the University of California at Davis said older adults may have performed better because only very healthy people were included from that age group, which may have caused a selection bias that does not exist in younger adults.

It may be that older adults who remain the healthiest late in life are less vulnerable to a variety of stressors, not just sleep loss, Drummond said in a statement.

The study involved 33 older adults and 27 younger adults. The performance of older and younger adults was compared on three distinct cognitive tasks before and after 36 hours of sleep deprivation.

The findings were presented at Sleep, the 23rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Seattle.