Researchers at The University of Western Australia are examining the importance of a good night's sleep when it comes to memory and mood in older adults.
PhD student Alix Mellor, from UWA's Centre for Clinical Research in Neuropsychiatry, is seeking adults aged between 50 and 75 years with a current diagnosis of depression to take part in a study to assess sleep and thinking skills.
Her study will investigate links between sleep, memory and mood, and aims to discover whether sleep problems might contribute to cognitive changes that occur in older age, and whether depression impacts on this relationship.
Ms Mellor said poor sleep and depressed mood were common problems associated with ageing.
"Not getting enough sleep or having poor quality sleep can really affect our quality of life and thought processes, such as attention and memory," she said. "However, depression can also affect mental functions, including memory."
In an earlier study involving more than 600 participants, Ms Mellor made some significant findings which are now being reviewed by a prestigious sleep science journal. The first finding contradicted a common belief that sleep worsened with age.
"Our results show that overall sleep quality remains relatively constant across the lifespan," Ms Mellor said. "However, while some aspects of self-reported sleep quality worsen with age, some do not change and some appear to improve."
The second finding was that while depression affected sleep quality, it did not contribute to increased sleep problems as people became older.
"The third major discovery was that older adults often didn't complain about their sleep, possibly because they accepted changes in their sleep quality as a normal part of getting older," Ms Mellor said.
"So this means it's important for doctors to assess sleep problems carefully in older adults because they may have an underlying sleep disorder that they are either not aware of or at least not complaining about."
Ms Mellor hopes to extend the findings of her earlier study by looking at the effects of sleep on memory in older adults with a current diagnosis of depression.
Study participants will be asked to wear a small watch that monitors sleep-wake patterns for the duration of the study (two or three weeks in total) and to complete a daily sleep diary.
There are two overnight sleep studies in the person's home, where electrodes are attached to the face and head, allowing researchers to obtain measures of sleep stages and respiratory function. Participants also need to complete a set of computerised tasks to assess thinking skills.
Sleep study results will be provided to all participants. Those interested in taking part should contact Ms Mellor on 9347 6404 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alix Mellor (UWA Centre for Clinical Research in Neuropsychiatry) (+61 4) 20 819 872
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783