• aging;
  • consolidation;
  • motor learning;
  • non-rapid eye movement sleep;
  • procedural learning;
  • Stage 2 sleep spindle


The purpose of this study was to compare the changes that occur in sleep architecture following the acquisition of a simple motor learning task in young and older adults. Subjects included 14 young (range = 17–24 years) and 14 older (range = 62–79 years) adults, all of whom were in good health. Using in-home recording systems, sleep architecture (sleep stages and the density of Stage 2 sleep spindles) was examined before and after learning the pursuit rotor. To control for possible age differences in baseline motor performance and spindle density, both absolute and relative (percent change) measures were examined. Both groups improved significantly on the pursuit rotor task at Retest (1 week later); however, the magnitude of absolute improvement was larger in the young group than in the older group. There was no group difference when a relative measure of improvement (percent increase across sessions) was used. The density of Stage 2 sleep spindles increased significantly following task Acquisition in the young group but not in the older group. These age differences failed to reach significance when change was measured as a percentage of baseline level of spindle density. The increase in spindle density was correlated with performance level during acquisition in the young group but not the older group. The results of the present study are largely consistent with previous studies on sleep and memory in young adults and suggest that more detailed examination of this relationship in older adults is warranted.