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Sleep. 1999 Mar 15;22(2):145-50.

Age-related changes in sleep in the rat.

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Sleep Research Laboratory, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Human sleep in old age is characterized by a number of changes, including reductions in sleep efficiency, amounts of visually scored slow-wave and REM sleep, and amplitude of the diurnal sleep/wake rhythm. In older rats, some, but not all, of these traits have been reported, including a decrease in the mean duration of sleep bouts, an increase in the number of sleep bouts, and a modest reduction of REM sleep. Studies of the diurnal rhythm of total sleep have had varied results. There are, however, virtually no data indicating at what point across the rat's lifetime the changes seen in old age begin to occur. In order to more fully characterize sleep in older rats, and to develop data on when they first appear, we have examined sleep in young adult (3 months), middle-aged (12 months), and older (24 months) rats during 24 hours under constant dim light. Analyses of variance revealed no age-related changes in total sleep, NREM or REM sleep, wake time after sleep onset, or three different measures of the amplitude of the sleep/wake circadian rhythm. There were, however, significant age-related reductions in high-voltage NREM sleep ("HS2"), the mean length of sleep bouts, and REM-onset duration. These were seen in the 1-year-old rats, indicating that the changes seen in the older animals were evident by midlife.

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