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Why is it harder to stay asleep as we get older?

Waking up in the middle of the night becomes a common problem as we age, and the repeated incidents of disrupted sleep can lead to more serious problems.

While changes in sleep are a typical sign of aging, researchers are not sure if periods of disrupted sleep are associated with a need for less sleep or that the brain is no longer able to sustain sufficient sleep.

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford set out to answer these questions by comparing the sleep of different aged mice using electroencephalography which records brain activity.

The study was published in the Journal JNeurosci and shows that neural oscillations during sleep are not affected depending on age, contrary to the findings of previous studies.

The researchers, led by Vladyslav Vyazovskiy, recorded neural activity within the motor cortex of different aged mice. The mice were either five months, twelve months, or twenty-four months old. Twenty-four months of age in mice corresponds with about 70 years in humans.

The researchers did not find any major differences in neural activity during sleep across the three age groups. All three age groups showed the same effects of sleep deprivation.

According to the researchers, the findings show that disrupted sleep is not associated the brain having a lowered ability to generate local neural oscillations.

The researchers say that previous theories and claims surrounding sleep and cortical activity need to be reconsidered, and that in order to understand aging and sleep, activity across the whole brain should be factored into future studies.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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