Researchers investigate effects of sleep

By Collegian News Staff


Sleep does not help or enhance fine motor skills and sequential learning as adults become older, but does enhance two major parts of learning in young adults, according to recent studies conducted by sleep researcher Rebecca Spencer and University of Massachusetts doctoral student Laura Kurdziel.

Spencer talked about her latest investigations on the neurological effects of sleep on Sunday morning during a press conference at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference, which is being held this week in Washington D.C., according to a UMass press release.

“We’ve been exploring how much of our memory decline is related to sleep impairment in healthy aging,” she said. “We recently found that sleep does not benefit learning a finger movement task for older individuals. Does this deficit extend to the tasks of everyday life? Should doctors treat memory decline with therapies that enhance sleep? Or will that only help with some of the tasks of daily life and not with others?”

According to the release, few experiments have been made on whether the decline in mental processes is related to quality and amount of sleep. Spencer and Kurdziel investigated sleep’s role on non-motor sequence learning tasks, and came to the conclusion that younger adults made far fewer mistakes during a 12-hour period following sleep than older adults.

“Our results support a general decrement in sleep-dependent consolidation of sequence learning in older adults,” said Spencer.
Stage Two sleep, which has effects associated with motor skills, might also be a factor in sequential learning, according to Spencer and Kurdziel.

“Older adults actually get more Stage Two sleep than young people so we initially thought they’d get more benefit from sleep on the motor task because it’s so important in young adults,” said Spencer. “But it’s fragmented by transitions to REM or wake, which may interrupt the memory processing.”

-Daily Collegian Staff