Research shows why we struggle to get good night’s sleep as we get older
New research has identified the way age impairs the ability of the circadian clock in mammals to re-set itself when exposed to light, resulting in disruption to sleeping patterns and consequent threats to wellbeing.
Researchers, led by a University of Kent neurophysiologist, found that aging results in a significant reduction in sensitivity to light in the part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
The breakthrough could help target treatments that aim to improve both physiological and behavioural circadian clock 're-setting' in older people.
Dr Gurprit Lall, of the University's Medway School of Pharmacy, and the other members of the research team explored alterations in one of the pathways in the part of the brain controlling circadian rhythms. They found that a glutamate receptor (NMDA), used to transmit light information, became less effective in resetting the circadian clock as part of the aging process.
This structural change in the glutamate receptor was responsible for the decline in light response observed. A subunit of the NMDA receptor exhibited a marked decrease in presence among older mammal, indicating an age-associated change in structural configuration.
The study concluded that the aging SCN suffers from a structural reorganisation of its light receiving components; which ultimately impair its function in setting and maintaining a stable circadian rhythm.
The research paper, entitled Alterations in glutamatergic signalling contribute to the decline of circadian photoentrainment in aged mice (Biello et al), is published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. See: http://www.neurobiologyofaging.org/article/S0197-4580(18)30056-3/fulltext
The Medway School of Pharmacy is a collaboration between the University of Kent and the University of Greenwich.
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Notes to editors
Established in 1965, the University of Kent – the UK's European university – now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and 25th in the Complete University Guide 2018, and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, it is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016. Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities. Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals. Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.