Research by medics from Harvard University has found the reason why elderly people sleep less than younger folks. It's due to the decline in certain neurons.
The scientists' research has determined that with age, the amount of inhibitory neurons (which are directly linked with the duration of sleep) in the body gradually decreases.
The group of nerve cells is responsible for blocking conscious thoughts, which helps us drift off towards sleep. In older people however, these cells are fewer in number, which is the reason for their sleeplessness.
The small number of inhibitory neurons also causes sleep problems in people with Alzheimer's. They also have a hard time falling asleep because they cannot block their conscious thoughts.
Lead research scientist Prof. Clifford Saper explained that his team reached the conclusion that 70-year-old people sleep about an hour less than 20-year-olds.
"The decline of these neurons with aging or the occurrence of Alzheimer's disease is one of the main reasons for poor sleep, " states the expert.
The scientists believe that their discovery will help them develop new methods in the battle with insomnia in older people.
Insomnia causes numerous health problems, such as cognitive dysfunction, increased blood pressure and an increased risk of developing type II diabetes.
Experiments on lab mice have proven that the neurons called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus activate the process of falling asleep in rodents.
According to Prof. Saper, the same effect can be induced in people also.
The main culprit of insomnia in people are intrusive conscious thoughts. The researchers advise that when you go to bed, free your mind of your daily problems and relax. This has been proven to help you fall asleep faster.
The most effective technique for getting rid of intrusive thoughts is reading a book. You can also meditate before you fall asleep - imagine a peaceful scene, such as a beautiful beach.