Making sure your child gets a good amount of shut eye not only affects their health, but also how they age.
In a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics and led by Princeton researchers, data on 1567 children from the age of nine was taken from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The database focused on children born from 1998 and 2000 in large American cities with more than 200,000 people.
The researchers took saliva samples from the children and measured the length of their telomeres, the caps at the end of a chromosome. Telomeres become shorter with every cell division. When a telomere becomes too short, it’s believed that it is unable to continue repairing and refreshing the body, which leads to ageing.
Along with measuring the telomeres, the researchers looked at the children’s typical nightly sleep duration, reported by their caregivers. The children with shorter telomeres often corresponded with the children who slept the least, the researchers said.
“Telomere length is 1.5 percent shorter for each hour less that children sleep per night,” said lead author Sarah James to New Scientist. “It raises concerns.”
Shorter telomeres are often associated with cancer, heart disease and cognitive health issues. The children in the study exhibited no signs of any of the health issues, but would mostly be at higher risk for developing them as they age, the researchers said.
“We provide preliminary evidence that children with shorter sleep durations have shorter telomeres,” the researchers concluded. “This finding is consistent with a broader literature indicating that suboptimal sleep duration is a risk for increased physiological stress and impaired health.”
The researchers said future studies should address the limitations of the study by using different study designs and telomere measurements, along with other techniques. The researchers said the study enhances how important sleep is for children.
“The current recommendation is for such children to get between nine and 11 hours of sleep,” James said.
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.