Age Differences in the Variability and Distribution of Sleep Spindle and Rapid Eye Movement Densities

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 5;9(3):e91047. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091047. eCollection 2014.


The present study had two main objectives. The first objective was to compare the sleep architecture of young and older adults, with an emphasis on sleep spindle density and REM density. The second objective was to examine two aspects of age differences that have not been considered in previous studies: age differences in the variability of sleep measures as well as the magnitude of age differences in phasic events across the distribution of values (i.e., at each decile rather than a single measure of location such as the mean or median. A total of 24 young (mean age=20.75 ± 1.78 years) and 24 older (mean age=71.17 ± 6.15 years) adults underwent in-home polysomnography. Whole-night spindle density was significantly higher in young adults than older adults. The two age groups did not differ significantly in whole-night REM density, although significant increases in REM density across the night were observed in both age groups. These results suggest that spindle density is more affected by age than REM density. Although age differences were observed in the degree of absolute variability (older adults had significantly larger variances than young adults for sleep efficiency and time spent awake after sleep onset), a similar pattern was also observed within the two age groups: the four sleep measures with the lowest degrees of relative variability were the same and included time spent in REM and Stage 2 sleep, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency. The distributional analysis of age differences in sleep spindle density revealed that the largest age differences were initially observed in the middle of the distributions, but as the night progressed, they were seen at the upper end of the distributions. The results reported here have potential implications for the causes and functional implications of age-related changes in sleep architecture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors