That raises an "alluring question" - whether improving sleep early in life might delay, or even reverse, age-related changes in memory and thinking, said Michael K Scullin, director of Baylor University's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory.
"It's the difference between investing up front rather than trying to compensate later," said Scullin. "We came across studies that showed that sleeping well in middle age predicted better mental functioning 28 years later," Scullin said.
The research notes that the benefits of a sound night's sleep for young adults are diverse and unmistakable. One example is that a particular kind of "deep sleep" called "slow-(brain)-wave-sleep" helps memory by taking pieces of a day's experiences, replaying them and strengthening them for better recollection.
By the time people reach middle age, more sleep during the day, such as an afternoon nap, also helps people's memory and protects against its decline - as long they don't skimp on night-time sleep, researchers said.
But as they grow older, people wake up more at night and have less deep sleep and dream sleep - both of which are important for overall brain functioning, Scullin said.

The research was published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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