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How many hours of sleep do you get per night? If it’s fewer than seven hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep you’re probably experiencing the effects in more ways than simply feeling tired. According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, more than a third of Canadians aren’t getting enough sleep. While the exact purpose of sleep is still a bit of a scientific mystery, scientists know that there’s a strong connection between memory and sleep.

Sleep Affects Seniors’ Memory

A lack of quality sleep affects seniors’ memory, making it more difficult to learn and retain information. The connection between memory and sleep can be seen even in the short term but some scientists, like Stuart Fogel at the University of Ottawa’s Sleep Research Laboratory, are studying how sleep affects seniors’ memory in the long term. Eventually, he wants to determine whether sleep therapy could be used to slow dementia’s onset.

Fogel’s research is technical, involving things called “sleep spindles” that he measures using an electroencephalogram (EEG). These spindles are the tiny bursts of brain activity which occur during deep sleep — up to 1000 times per night. These spindles seem to show the brain moving what we learned that day from short- to long-term storage. When you sleep for fewer than seven hours, you have fewer sleep spindles. As a result, you don’t retain as much of the information.

During the ageing process, your brain slowly loses the ability to benefit from sleep. Fogel thinks the key to this is the decrease in sleep spindles’ magnitude and frequency. He believes that sleep affects seniors’ memory because age-related sleep changes don’t allow memories to form the same way they could at a younger age. The research is still in its early days, but Fogel hopes to discover how sleep might be related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Sleep Statistics

According to the 2017 Stats Canada report, only a little over half of Canadian seniors are getting between 7-8 hours of sleep. The remaining seniors are split between those getting more than the recommended amount (about 15%) and those getting less (31%). While it might seem like sleeping more is a good thing, it can be a sign of other health issues, including depression.

Older women were more likely to report having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. If you’re struggling to get quality sleep, it might help to establish a bedtime routine and exercise regularly earlier in the day. If you can’t get to sleep, get up and do something calming for 20 minutes before trying again.


It’s no secret that sleep affects seniors’ memory. As you age, sleep is less effective at moving information to long-term storage. Scientists can measure this effect using sleep spindles; someday they hope to be able to use the information to slow the onset of dementia.

Have you noticed a connection between memory and sleep? How do you ensure you get enough sleep? Add to the memory and sleep discussion by commenting below.