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Dynamic Contributions of Slow Wave Sleep and REM Sleep to Cognitive Longevity

Abstract

Purpose of Review

The purpose of this paper was to address how sleep changes with aging, with the broader goal of informing how REM sleep and slow wave activity mechanisms interact to promote cognitive longevity.

Recent Findings

We conducted novel analyses based on the National Sleep Research Resource database. Over approximately 5 years, middle-to-older aged adults, on average, showed dramatically worse sleep fragmentation, a steady decrease in slow wave sleep, and yet a small increase in REM sleep. Averaging across participants, however, masked a major theme: Individuals differ substantially in their longitudinal trajectories for specific components of sleep. We considered this individual variability in light of recent theoretical and empirical work that has shown disrupted sleep and decreased slow wave activity to impair frontal lobe restoration, glymphatic system functioning, and memory consolidation. Based on multiple recent longitudinal studies, we contend that preserved or enhanced REM sleep may compensate for otherwise disrupted sleep in advancing age.

Summary

The scientific community has often debated whether slow wave activity or REM sleep mechanisms are more important to cognitive aging. We propose that a more fruitful approach for future work will be to investigate how REM and slow wave processes dynamically interact to affect cognitive longevity.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are appreciative to Yo-El Ju for helpful discussions on glymphatic functioning during the preparation of this manuscript.

Funding

This work was supported in part by NIH AG053161 (M.K.S.). The National Sleep Research Resource is supported by NIH HL114473.

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Correspondence to Michael K. Scullin.

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Michael K. Scullin reports a grant for research on memory and aging by NIH AG053161.

Chenlu Gao declares no potential conflicts of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Sleep and Aging

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Scullin, M.K., Gao, C. Dynamic Contributions of Slow Wave Sleep and REM Sleep to Cognitive Longevity. Curr Sleep Medicine Rep 4, 284–293 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40675-018-0131-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40675-018-0131-6

Keywords

  • National Sleep Research Resource
  • Older adults
  • Dementia
  • Memory consolidation
  • Sleep spindles
  • Sequential hypothesis