A new study shows that children who sleep less show signs of advanced cellular aging.
Getting enough sleep is incredibly important. This is a lesson we all learn at one time or another when we simply don’t get enough sleep. Making it through the next day is challenging, to say the least. Not getting enough sleep can affect our mood, how well we interact with others, and how well our brains function. A lack of sleep has also been connected with many adverse long-term health effects. New research from Princeton University shows that a lack of sleep can have even harsher effects on children.
The basis for the research was several smaller studies that were previously done on adults, which suggest a part of the chromosome, called a telomere, may be linked to sleeping habits. “Telomeres – the caps at the ends of our chromosomes – get shorter every time our cells divide, and when they get too short, it is thought that cells are no longer able to divide to repair and replenish the body – a sign of aging.” Researchers Sarah James and Daniel Notterman wanted to find out if telomere length was linked to sleep in children. They dug into a database of information on over 1,500 children from across the United States (all of the children were nine years of age). They also extracted DNA from the children’s saliva samples and used these to compare the lengths of their telomeres and how many hours a night they slept.
The results of their research show that children who slept less had shorter telomeres. For each hour of lost sleep per night, their telomeres were 1.5 percent shorter than the average length. The researchers concluded that when children do not get enough sleep, they can experience the same accelerated cellular aging processes that are seen in adults, which can lead to dangerous health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and diminished mental capacity. “Short telomeres have been linked to cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline,” and although the participants in the study did not show immediate signs of these health problems, the researchers said they have a higher risk of developing them as they grow older.
Currently, there is not enough research to determine if shortened telomeres can be repaired by increasing the amount of sleep people get. The researchers implore parents to ensure that their children are getting enough sleep. Currently, the nationally recommended amount of sleep per night for children is nine to eleven hours.