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

Al-Sharman, Alham PT, PhD; Siengsukon, Catherine F. PT, PhD

Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: July 2014 - Volume 38 - Issue 3 - p 161–169
doi: 10.1097/NPT.0000000000000048
Research Articles
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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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

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Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas.

Correspondence: Catherine F. Siengsukon, PT, PhD, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd, Mail Stop 2002, Kansas City, KS 66160 (

This work was funded in part by a Kanas Partners in Progress grant awarded to C.S.

Portions of data contained in this article were presented as a poster presentation by A.A. at CSM 2012. None of the data contained in this article has been submitted for publication.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citation appears in the printed text and is provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (

© 2014 Neurology Section, APTA