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Front Neurol. 2012 Jul 26;3:118. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2012.00118. eCollection 2012.

Age-related changes in sleep and circadian rhythms: impact on cognitive performance and underlying neuroanatomical networks.

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Centre for Chronobiology, Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel Basel, Switzerland.


Circadian and homeostatic sleep-wake regulatory processes interact in a fine tuned manner to modulate human cognitive performance. Dampening of the circadian alertness signal and attenuated deterioration of psychomotor vigilance in response to elevated sleep pressure with aging change this interaction pattern. As evidenced by neuroimaging studies, both homeostatic sleep pressure and circadian sleep-wake promotion impact on cognition-related cortical and arousal-promoting subcortical brain regions including the thalamus, the anterior hypothalamus, and the brainstem locus coeruleus (LC). However, how age-related changes in circadian and homeostatic processes impact on the cerebral activity subtending waking performance remains largely unexplored. Post-mortem studies point to neuronal degeneration in the SCN and age-related modifications in the arousal-promoting LC. Alongside, cortical frontal brain areas are particularly susceptible both to aging and misalignment between circadian and homeostatic processes. In this perspective, we summarize and discuss here the potential neuroanatomical networks underlying age-related changes in circadian and homeostatic modulation of waking performance, ranging from basic arousal to higher order cognitive behaviors.


aging; circadian rhythms; cognition; functional magnetic resonance imaging; sleep homeostasis; sleep-wake regulation

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