Children’s mental health could change permanently due to less sleep: study
Sleep and mental health in tweens are linked in the brain, new research published in Mapping of the human brain.
The study, “Functional connectome mediates the association between sleep disturbance and mental health in preadolescence: a longitudinal mediation study,” was published Jan. 18 and aimed to understand how two distinct brain networks interconnect regarding sleep deprivation and mental health.
The study recognizes that sleep disturbances are known to be associated with various mental disorders and often precede the onset of mental disorders in young people.
“Given the increasingly recognized bidirectional influence between sleep disorders and mental disorders, we aim to identify a shared neural mechanism that underlies sleep disorders and mental disorders in preadolescents,” said Researchers.
Ze Wang, associate professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is the author of the study.
Wang said Newsweek that he noticed the importance of sleep many years ago when he read several articles about the immediate deposition of amyloid proteins in the brain after short-term sleep deprivation.
Amyloid is the neurotoxic waste product in the brain and must be transported by cerebrospinal fluid, which is most often static. The best time to have more cerebrospinal fluid and increased flow, Wang said, is at night while lying down to sleep due to reduced cerebral blood flow.
“From my personal experience, I noticed the big difference after sleeping well and started thinking [of] a science project,” he said. Newsweek. “If I lack good sleep, my brain is basically a mess and I can’t constantly think and remember things I’ve just read.
“Because of these strong scientific interests, I was looking for an opportunity to study the effects of sleep on the brain. The opportunity presented itself when I had access to big ABCD data three years ago.”
It was then that he had access to ABCD (Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development) data, which provides large amounts of data to the research community to test new hypotheses about brain development and behavior, as well as on the first signatures or alterations related to mental health.
The ABCD study, which officially launched in 2016, is believed to be the largest long-term study of children’s brain development and health in the United States. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study includes 21 research sites across the country where approximately 11,878 children ages 9-10 are participating.
Researchers track biological and behavioral development from adolescence to early adulthood, using different technological measures to dissect a range of data – sports, video games, social media, unhealthy sleep patterns and smoking – and learn how these childhood experiences affect a child’s changing brain, as well as social, behavioral, academic and health outcomes.
“The data is so large that it took me and my lab members two months to upload it, about several months to fully process it,” Wang said. Newsweek. “My initial plan was to examine the effects of sleep on brain activity in terms of dynamic change in acquired brain signal and cross-regional connection. I am also interested in mediation effects. [of] other contributing factors, such as puberty and socioeconomic status.”
He and his fellow researchers found that out of 186 unique connectivity measures tested, the effect of sleep disturbances and mental disorders converged in two brain networks: one is the dorsal attention network, primarily responsible for controlling attention, memory and inhibition; the other is the default mode network, which has been shown to play an important role in facilitating general brain functions.
Data from 9,350 children were analyzed for this specific study, with a one-year follow-up performed for 8,845 children.
“Our work has identified strong relationships between sleep disturbances, mental health, and functional connectivity of many brain networks,” the researchers said. “Total sleep disruption and mental issues both impacted similar network connectivities and their relationship was mediated by these identified network connectivities.”
Wang said that except for a few cases, weakened connections are linked to poorer mental health and more trouble sleeping. Moreover, the connections between these networks “significantly modulated the relationship between mental health and sleep quality.”
In other words, he said the brain and behavior should be considered in the same model when looking for mental issues, even though it remains unclear why sleep and mental health are connected in these distinct brain networks.
According to Wang, findings that have been discussed before include: how poor sleep in adolescents is associated with impaired connections between and within two important brain networks; that sleep deficits are associated with more mental problems, and that this correlation is bi-directional and runs through brain connections within and across both networks; and that the associations and mediated effects can last for at least a year, according to the data.
“Adolescents are sleeping less and less due to all kinds of excitement and technological advances to produce more feasible and engaging visual systems,” Wang said. “Unfortunately, this has consequences. One possible consequence is mental health damage, which can reciprocally impact sleep quality and trigger a cycle of getting worse and worse. Another possible consequence is changing brain connections. These consequences can last for some time. long duration.”
He added that due to the rapid development of adolescent brains, sustained sleep deficits can lead to permanent impairment of brain and cognitive functions.
“Getting back good sleep is crucial for adolescent brains and mental health,” he said. “Although our findings may raise concerns if sleep patterns are too difficult to change, there are alternative approaches.”
He cited noninvasive cognitive therapy as an example for improving brain function connectivities associated with sleep disorders and mental health.
The study authors said that future research could include examining the effectiveness of regulating the strength of connectivity between the dorsal attention network and the default mode network to induce “behavioral change positive linked to mental health and sleep problems”.
“We have several ongoing studies planned to uncover the causal effects of sleep deficits on mental health and to investigate longitudinal changes in these outcomes and other hypothetical effects over a larger time scale, for example, three years or five years or more,” Wang Told Newsweek.