Study Finds That Lack of Sleep Affects Kids' Brains Differently (and More Robustly) Than Adults'

A study has found that sleep deprivation in children could affect their brains much differently than adults.

Published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in November 2016, the recently resurfaced data saw researchers look at how keeping 13 children between the ages of 5 and 12 up past their bedtimes (at a rate of 50 percent sleep deprivation) affected specific areas of their brains.

The study pointed out that while, in adults, the usually decreased brain-wave activity after lack of sleep “is most pronounced over prefrontal brain regions” — which are responsible for memory — children saw the effects over more areas of the brain.

“This research shows an increase in sleep need in posterior brain regions in children,” said the lead author of the study, Salome Kurth, according to Science Daily.

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To conduct the study, researchers measure brain activity in the children after they got a full night’s sleep, then again after they got half the amount of sleep they usually do.

They then found that both the parieto-occipital areas (near the back of the brain) and myelin content — fatty matter that, according to WebMD, “helps messages from your brain move quickly and smoothly through your body, like electricity flows from a power source” — were adversely affected.

“The results show that the sleep loss effect on the brain is specific to certain regions and that this correlates with the myelin content of the directly adjacent regions: the more myelin in a specific area, the more the effect appears similar to adults,” Kurth said, reports Science Daily.

“It is possible that this effect is temporary and only occurs during a ‘sensitive period’ when the brain undergoes developmental changes,” she added.

Given the smaller size of the study and other factors, further research needs to be conducted in the future to draw a more conclusive parallel between sleep and how kids’ brains may develop as they age.

But regardless, “The process of sleep may be involved in brain ‘wiring’ in childhood and thus affect brain maturation,” Kurth and her team concluded, says Science Daily.

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