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Does More Sleep Time Improve Memory? Evidence for the Middle-Aged and Elderly 

Wei Chen

ajhe cover November December 2019

Sleep is an important lifestyle factor that affects health. It has been established in the literature that optimizing sleep duration and quality can be an intervention to improve glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Sleep is shown to affect energy balance, and more sleep is recommended to prevent obesity. While depression affects sleep, sleep restoration is associated with decreased severity of depression. Given the role of sleep in a person’s daily life and the fact that the potential health benefits of sleep have not been fully explored yet, it is no wonder that sleep has also attracted attention and received interest from mental health researchers. 

As an important part of mental health, memory reflects brain functions, influences human behaviors, and impacts quality of life. After all, intelligence is essentially a memory-based process. Complaints of memory failure are common in clinics and hospital settings. Age-related memory impairment (AMI) or age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) is a natural process related to normal aging. However, it can result in meaningful impacts on a person’s life, which include reduced work efficiency and negative emotional experiences and self-evaluations. Admittedly, there are many factors that affect an individual’s memory. Studies have shown that sleep is important for cognitive performance and memory consolidation. Memory scholars divide memory into declarative (explicit) memory and procedural (implicit) memory. Declarative memory includes episodic memory that is related to the recollection of specific events and semantic memory that is associated with the longterm storage of ideas and concepts. Sleep not only aids the consolidation of episodic memory, but also facilitates the consolidation of semantic memory. Procedural memory refers to the unconscious memory of skills. Sleep is found to support the consolidation of procedural memory.

According to the International Population Reports released by the United States Census Bureau (see An Aging World: 2015 for details), the world population is aging rapidly. Median age is predicted to rise continuously in both developed and developing countries. China, the country with the largest population in the world, is no exception, and it is expected to experience a huge increase in the proportion of middle-aged and elderly people in the future. Provision of health promotion and wellness services for the middle-aged and elderly population is a common challenge facing different countries.

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