man with gray hair asleep, sleep, nap, synchronized brain waves

Adequate sleep is essential for the health of the immune system, cardiovascular system and metabolic response. Sleep is also important for older people’s brains. The key seems to lie in synchronized brain waves.

Why Are Synchronized Brain Waves Important?

Research published in the journal Neuron reports that as people age, their brains are less likely to synchronize brain wave rhythms during deep sleep (Helfrich et al, Neuron, online Dec. 14, 2017). Deep sleep is also known as non-rapid eye movement sleep. This coordination of brain waves appears to be critical to consolidating memories. One author, Dr. Matt Walker, describes the phenomenon of not-quite-synchronization as “a drummer that’s perhaps just one beat off the rhythm.”

Young People and Brain Waves:

The researchers started with 20 young people who were asked to learn 120 word pairs. After their session, they slept while the scientists monitored their brain waves. Upon awakening the following morning, they were tested again on the word pairs. Those who did best had had the most perfect coordination between two types of brain waves called slow waves and spindles.

Older People’s Brain Waves:

When the research team tested 32 people in their 60s and 70s, they found that the brain waves were not as well coordinated. However, those with more synchronized brain waves did better at remembering their previously learned word pairs.

The scientists were able to pinpoint the source of the problem: atrophy in the part of the brain responsible for deep sleep. Unfortunately, such atrophy is a common feature of aging. The scientists are now planning to see whether they can help get those brain waves re-synchronized with a magnetic or electrical pulse.

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

  1. Larry M
    Raleigh, NC

    Can older folks like me sign up to be part of the study? Where?

    • Terry Graedon

      I don’t think the study is still going on.

  2. KFrost

    I wonder what effect meditation has on brain waves synchronization, if it helps any.

    • Terry Graedon

      That would be interesting. We’d assume it would help, but we’d like to see data on that!

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.