01/23/2015 02:11 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2015

Good-Quality Sleep When Young Helps Memory Later In Life, Study Says

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Younger people may pride themselves in their ability to stay up all night and still function the next day, but a new study suggests they rethink their poor sleeping habits.

It's common for people, especially the young, to think that they can make up for sleep deficits later on, but Baylor University researchers say you should think of your nighttime slumber the same way you think about saving for your future. "It's the difference between investing up front rather than trying to compensate later," study author Michael K. Scullin of the Baylor University Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory said in a statement.

The researchers investigated around 200 different studies, dating back to the late '60s, which looked at the link between sleep and brain function, and addressed things like sleep deprivation, naps and interventions. They categorized subjects as young (ages 18 to 29), middle-aged (ages 30 to 60) and older (ages 60 and up).

Their analysis, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, noted how the benefits of adequate sleep when you're young and middle-aged can help you reap rewards for decades to come. Deep sleep helps the young mind by using the slow-brain-wave state to store and process memories so they can be recalled later. They found that by middle age, people are more apt to take naps during the day, which also protects the brain from decline, so long as you don't use naps to make up for lost sleep at nighttime.

But by the time you're older, many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, due to things like medications that disrupt sleep patterns, illnesses and pain, as well as less activity to tire you out during the day.

"We came across studies that showed that sleeping well in middle age predicted better mental functioning 28 years later," Scullin said. "People sometimes disparage sleep as 'lost time,' but even if the link between sleep and memory lessens with age, sleeping well still is linked to better mental health, improved cardiovascular health and fewer, less severe disorders and diseases of many kinds."

As Scullin said, many younger people will burn the candle at both ends, with demands from work, school and family, and so won't make sleep a priority. But it's important that they're aware of the many risks involved with getting inadequate amounts of sleep. One UK study found that getting just six hours of sleep for a week, less than the recommended seven to nine hours, can cause changes to hundreds of genes in your body. There are also countless studies that link sleep deprivation to dangerous diseases like obesity, a weakened immune system and even an increased risk for death. Yikes.

So seriously, we've said it before and we'll say it again, make sure you catch your Z's -- and not just on the weekend.



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