Performance on a Functional Motor Task Is Enhanced by Sleep in Middle-Aged and Older Adults

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Background and Purpose:

Although sleep has been shown to enhance motor skill learning, it remains unclear whether sleep enhances learning of a functional motor task in middle-aged and older individuals. The purpose of this study was to examine whether sleep enhances motor learning of a functional motor task in middle-aged and older adults.


Twenty middle-aged and 20 older individuals were randomly assigned to either the sleep condition or the no-sleep condition. Participants in the sleep condition practiced a novel walking task in the evening, and returned the following morning for retesting. Participants in the no-sleep condition practiced the walking task in the morning and returned the same day in the evening for a retest. Outcome measures included time around the walking path and spatiotemporal gait parameters.


Only the middle-aged and older adults in the sleep condition demonstrated significant off-line improvement in performance, measured as a decline in time to walk around the novel path and improvement in spatiotemporal gait parameters. The middle-aged and older adults in the no-sleep condition failed to demonstrate off-line improvements in performance of this functional task.


This is the first study to provide evidence that sleep facilitates learning a clinically relevant functional motor task in middle-aged and older adults. Because many neurologic conditions occur in the middle-aged and older adults and sleep issues are very prevalent in many neurologic conditions, it is imperative that physical therapists consider sleep as a factor that may impact motor learning and recovery in these individuals.

Video Abstract available.

(See Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, for more insights from the authors.

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