New U.S. research has found that children who sleep less appear to age faster at the cellular level – a process which can have a negative effect on health later in life.
Previous smaller studies on adults have already suggested that sleep might be linked to a shortening of telomeres – the protective “caps” at the end of our chromosomes.
Telomeres naturally get shorter as we age, every time our cells divide. However, certain lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, and lack of exercise, appear to accelerate this process.
When telomeres get too short, it is believed that cells are no longer able to divide in order to repair and replenish the body – a sign of aging.
Reported by New Scientist, the new study was carried out by researchers Sarah James and Daniel
Notterman and their team from Princeton University, and set out to see if sleep was linked to telomere length in children, not only adults.
The researchers gathered information from a database of 1,567 nine-year-old children from cities across the U.S., which included the children’s average sleep duration.
Saliva samples were also taken from each child to extract DNA and examine the length of their telomeres.
The results showed that those who had a shorter sleep duration also had shorter telomeres, with telomere length 1.5 per cent shorter for each hour less that children sleep per night.
The findings could be significant for children’s future health, as short telomeres have previously been linked to cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline.
Although at just 9 years old the children in the study didn’t show any signs of these conditions, James still commented that the study “raises concerns.”
Exactly how much sleep adults should be getting can be confusing, with some previous studies suggesting that too much sleep could be just as bad as too little. However, it appeared in this study that in the case of children and cell ageing more sleep is better, with James advising sticking to the current recommendation of between 9 and 11 hours of sleep per night.
Whether more sleep could actually help reverse telomere shortening remains unknown.
The findings can be found published online in The Journal of Pediatrics.