Older People Sleep Less. Now We Know Why.

It’s long been known that the older you get, the less you sleep. There are many proposed reasons for why this happens, and they include new medications, psychological distress, retirement or simply the theory that the elderly need less sleep. But a new study offers for the first time, a neurological reason for the phenomenon:
Namely, that a specific cluster of neurons associated with regulating sleep patterns, called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus, may slowly die off as you get older. "The more of these cells you lose from aging, the harder time you have sleeping," lead researcher Clifford Saper, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of neurology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told HuffPost. Saper noted that by the time people are in their 70s, they’re generally sleeping an hour and a half less than they did when they were in their 20s. "They’re not feeling rested — they’re getting up because they can’t sleep anymore, but they’re still tired during the day," he said. "It’s sort of a chronic insomnia state."
The new findings, published in the journal Brain, could one day lead to development of medication that would smooth disrupted sleep patterns by specifically targeting the neurons pinpointed in the study, and it would do so without negatively affecting other functions, like balance, the way some current sleep medications do, explained Saper. Saper first linked the death of the neurons to sleep disruption in studies with lab rats, finding that the animals who didn’t have them suffered "profound insomnia."