Sleep Deprivation in children affects brain myelin development

Sleep is vital for humans. If adults remain awake for longer than usual, the brain responds with an increased need for deep sleep. In adults, these deep-sleep waves are most pronounced in the prefrontal cortex – the brain region which plans and controls actions, solves problems and is involved in the working memory.

Sleep deprivation in children increases deep sleep in posterior brain regions For the first time, researchers from University Hospital Zurich  have now demonstrated that curtailed sleep in children also results in locally increased deep sleep. “The deep-sleep effect doesn’t appear in the front regions of the brain like in adults, but rather in the back – in the parietal and occipital lobes.”

The team of researchers also discovered that the heightened need for sleep – measured as an increase in deep sleep – in children is associated with the myelin content in certain nerve fiber bundles: the optic radiation. The level of myelin – a fatty sheath around the nerve fibers, which accelerates the transfer of electrical signals – is a yardstick for brain maturity and increases in the course of childhood and adolescence. Deep-sleep effect depends on extent of brain maturity.

The sleep researchers measured the brain activity in 13 healthy five to 12-year-olds as they slept. On the first occasion, the children went to bed at their normal bedtime; the second time, they stayed awake until late and thus received exactly half the normal amount of sleep. The scientists assume that the quality of sleep is jointly responsible for the neuronal connections to develop optimally during childhood and adolescence. According to international guidelines, the recommended amount of sleep for children aged 6 to 13 is 9 to 11 hours per night.

Publication: Increased Sleep Depth in Developing Neural Networks: New Insights from Sleep Restriction in Children. doi: dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00456

Press release: Developing brain regions in children hardest hit by sleep deprivation