The importance of sleep is often overlooked but it really can’t be over-emphasized. While you sleep, much of your body rests—except for your brain. In fact, when you sleep, the brain is hard at work and is as busy as when you’re awake. The brain takes your time asleep to clean house, ridding itself of toxins.
Science now knows that chronic lack of sleep leads to neurodegenerative disease, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and obesity. A recent Princeton University study of the effect sleep disorders in children has brought to light something equally frightening.
Sleep Disorders in Children
Children who don’t get enough sleep age faster and are more susceptible to disease.
The study measured the length of telomeres in the brains of almost 1600 children. Telomeres are “caps” at the ends of chromosomes that serve to protect them from damage and deterioration. When a telomere shrinks to a certain point, the cell dies. Telomeres have a tendency to shorten as cells continue to divide and we age, so the longer the telomere at the beginning of life, the better.
Moreover, certain conditions advance the shortening of telomeres, such as heart disease, chronic stress, drinking soda, depression, cancer, and (guess what?) lack of sleep. (1)
Children need more sleep than adults do. School-age children should get at least 10 hours of sleep every day, teenagers only slightly less, and younger children even more. In addition to all the processes that also occur in adults as they sleep, children’s bodies grow. DNA replicates faster in children, in step with the rate of growth. If there’s a problem with DNA (which is made up of chromosomes), the cells that are produced will carry the biomarkers with them.
Telomere Length and Sleep Duration in Children
Results of the recent study read:
“We found that children with shorter sleep durations have shorter telomeres than children with longer sleep durations. Each hour less of nightly sleep duration is associated with having telomeres that are 0.015 log-kilobases per chromosome shorter (P < .05). We found no difference in this association by race, sex, or socioeconomic status.” (2)
Since shortened telomere length is associated with DNA deterioration, aging, and disease, children who don’t routinely get enough sleep are beginning their lives at a disadvantage and are at risk for a whole slew of illnesses and premature aging. Additionally, sleep deprivation in children is associated with developmental and emotional disorders. (3)