A shortage of sleep in childhood may have longer term consequences
To maintain healthy cells and healthy cell division you need your telomeres to be intact and robust, but as we age our average telomere length declines gradually - despite this amount varying considerably from person to person. While coming medical interventions are likely to make much more of an impact, there is a large amount of existing data suggesting lifestyle modifications are in fact able to decrease and possibly even extend telomeres in certain conditions. Some of the typical culprits have been linked to telomere loss, from poverty to stress and smoking.
The importance of shut eye
Research at Princeton University examining the cross-sectional data of 1567 children has now concluded that average telomere length in American 9 year old children is around 1.5% shorter for every hour of sleep lost. The telomere lengths of these children were assessed from saliva samples.
This might not seem like a large figure, but lower ranges of human telomere length have been correlated with multiple diseases such as Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease and cancer. If this data holds true, it could be that a lack of recovery time in youth has more severe longer term consequences.
Can this loss be reversed?
Whether telomere loss can be reversed to at least some extent with lifestyle changes is still a matter of debate to some degree, so we don't know whether this accelerated shortening (albeit relatively mild) could be counteracted through changes in sleeping habits later on. This research also wasn't extrapolated to adults, so at this time we don't know whether adults experience similar loss as a result of sleep deprivation - although shift workers are known to have typically poor long term health risks.
Read more at the New Scientist