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Decreased functioning in the elderly is mirrored by independent changes in central and autonomic nervous systems. Additionally, recent work suggests that the coupling of these systems may also serve an important role. In young adults, Autonomic and Central Events (ACEs), measured in the temporal coincidence of heart rate bursts (HRBs) and increased slow-wave-activity (SWA, 0.5–1 Hz) and sigma activity (12–15 Hz), followed by parasympathetic surge (RRHF) during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, predicted cognitive improvements. However, ACEs have not been examined in the elderly. Thus, the current study compared ACEs during wake and daytime sleep in older and younger adults and examined associations with working memory improvement before and after a nap. Compared to youngers, older adults showed lower amplitude of ACEs during NREM sleep, but not during wake. Furthermore, while younger adults demonstrated a parasympathetic surge after HRBs, older adults showed an earlier rise and longer maintenance of the RRHF. Taken together, our results demonstrate that autonomic-central coupling declines with age. Pathological aging implicates independent roles for decreased autonomic and central nervous system functioning, the current findings suggest that the coupling of these systems may also deserve attention.

Original publication




Journal article


Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

Publication Date





107646 - 107646