Sleep study shows sleep deprivation detrimental to boys’ health
A new study by Penn State University has found that how much sleep a teenage boy gets could have a negative effect on his health, possibly associated with increased weight gain, lower levels of concentration, and even risk factors associated with developing diabetes.
In their study, Penn State University researchers analysed data collected from the Penn State Child Cohort study to look at the long-term effects of declining slow-wave sleep (SWS) from childhood to adolescence.
SWS is an important stage of sleep that is not only used in memory consolidation, but is also associated with reduced levels of cortisol and inflammation in the body. SWS is also involved in recovery after sleep deprivation, with individuals experiencing more slow-wave sleep if they were sleep deprived the night before, to make up for the loss. Although many previous studies have suggested that SWS declines with age, few have looked at the negative effects of a reduced amount of SWS on health.
To focus on this possible association, data was collected from 700 children aged 5 to 12 in the first part of the study, with 421 of the participants taking part in the students’ follow-up eight years later. Of the participants, 53.9 per cent were boys.
In both the original study and the follow-up, participants stayed overnight to have their sleep monitored for a period of nine hours. In the follow-up, participants also had their body fat and resistance to insulin measured and took part in neurocognitive testing.
The results showed that in the boys, a decrease in SWS sleep between childhood and adolescence was significantly linked with insulin resistance. As well as being associated with various health problems, insulin resistance is also a key factor in Type 2 diabetes.
The researchers also found a slight association between lack of SWS sleep and increased belly fat and impaired attention. However no links were found between a lack of SWS and any of these health factors in girls.
The findings also showed that the participants’ sleep duration did not decline with age, leading the researcher to believe that the negative health effects seen were as a result of a lack of this particular ‘deeper’ stage of sleep.
Study researcher Jordan Gaines was unsurprised by the results, commenting that “Given the restorative role of slow-wave sleep, we weren’t surprised to find that metabolic and cognitive processes were affected during this developmental period.”
However Gaines also recognized the need for more studies in this area, especially in other age groups, but in the meantime advised that, “The best thing we can do for ourselves today is keep a consistent sleep schedule, so as not to deprive ourselves of any more slow-wave sleep than we’re already naturally losing with age.”