Sleep deprivation may hurt child brain development

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sleep deprivation
Local sleep homeostasis

When we have sleep deprivation or restriction, our brain responds with slow-wave activity (SWA) in the sleep electroencephalogram (EEG).

Previous findings have shown that when adults are sleep deprived, this response is most pronounced over prefrontal brain regions. However, it is unknown how children’s developing brain responds to acute sleep restriction, and how sleep deprivation affects brain development.

In a recent study, scientists answered the question. They find evidence for increased sleep need in posterior neural networks in children. The finding is published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Researchers from University of Colorado Boulder, Brown University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Zurich in Switzerland, and King’s College London in the UK conducted the study.

They focused on myelination, an ongoing process in childhood that is critical for brain development and cortical integration.

Researchers used a bedtime delay design, in which 5- to 12-year-old children received partial sleep restriction (1-night; 50% of their habitual sleep).

They measured high-density sleep EEG during habitual and restricted sleep, and brain myelin content was obtained using an advanced MRI technique.

The result showed a localized SWA response following sleep restriction in a specific parieto-occipital region. In addition, the restricted/habitual SWA ratio was negatively associated with myelination.

Furthermore, this relationship occurred bilaterally over parieto-temporal areas and was adjacent to, but did not overlap with the parieto-occipital region showing the strongest SWA response.

Researchers suggest that these results provide evidence for increased sleep need in posterior neural networks in children. Sleep need in parieto-temporal areas is related to myelin content.

In the future, they will test whether chronic insufficient sleep in the sensitive period of early life changes the anatomical basis of deep sleep slow-waves.

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Citation: Kurth S, et al. (2016). Increased Sleep Depth in Developing Neural Networks: New Insights from Sleep Restriction in Children. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, published online. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00456.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is credited to Kurth S et al.