Turn up the radio and tune into sleep

As we grow older, our ability to drift into adeep sleep can decrease substantially. This is an unfortunate fact which scientists believe may contribute to memory loss as we age.

If you feel like you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, wake often throughout the night or wake in the morning feeling tired, then you may want to try gentle ‘sound simulation.’

It sounds like an old wives’ tale but new studies have revealed that gentle sound simulation, such as listening to the soft droplets of rain, can improve sleep and memory function.

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A study conducted by American researchers at Northwestern Medicine claims that sound simulation can synchronize to the rhythm of brain waves and have a significant impact on sleep. In turn, this improves older adults’ ability to recall words.

Dr Ryan Harvey from House Call Doctor says there may be merit in this seemingly simple solution.

“Sound simulation is a potential tool for the older population and may be able to assist in reducing the effect of typical age-related memory decline,” says Dr Harvey.

We all know sleep is important as we age, but are we getting the right type of rest?

There are actually three different stages involved in our sleep process. Stage three, known as slow wave sleep or deep sleep, is the process responsible for cell regeneration.

“During slow wave sleep the brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli, which is why this stage is considered the deepest and is the hardest to wake up from,” explains Dr Harvey.

Slow wave sleep is marked by increased delta waves [slow brain waves], lowered blood pressure, slower breathing and immobility of the body.

This third stage allows the body to direct its focus to regenerating tissue, recharging energy stores and strengthening the immune system. In addition, slow wave sleep is strongly related to certain types of learning.

Unfortunately, the older we get the less likely we are to fall into this slow wave sleep.

In fact, older people tend to spend more time in light sleep, such as stage one and two, and wake more often throughout the night.

To encourage slow wave sleep, Northwestern Medicine examined people who listened to the sound of waterfalls during rest periods. Researches found these people had improved scores on a variety of memory tests.

“If older patients are finding their sleep and memory declining the use of sound stimulation may offer some improvements,” says Dr Harvey.

“This method is simple and safe, and may offer older people another way to improve their overall cognitive function.”

If the sound of a waterfall doesn’t appeal to you, there are some other methods you can adopt to improve your sleep and memory function.

“Set a regular bed time, avoid alcohol and caffeine late in the day and ensure that your routine involves regular exercise,” recommends Dr Harvey.

It’s also important to switch off smartphones and other electronic devices before bedtime, as these can interfere with the hormones responsible for our body’s natural sleep and wake cycle.

“Certain medications may interfere with your sleep cycles, so it’s important to consult with your regular GP for personalised medical advice,” adds Dr Harvey.

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