Naturalistic Sleep Patterns are Linked to Global Structural Brain Aging in Adolescence



      We examined whether interindividual differences in naturalistic sleep patterns correlate with any deviations from typical brain aging.


      Our sample consisted of 251 participants without current psychiatric diagnoses (9–25 years; mean [standard deviation] = 17.4 ± 4.52 yr; 58% female) drawn from the Neuroimaging and Pediatric Sleep Databank. Participants completed a T1-weighted structural magnetic resonance imaging scan and 5–7 days of wrist actigraphy to assess naturalistic sleep patterns (duration, timing, continuity, and regularity). We estimated brain age from extracted structural magnetic resonance imaging indices and calculated brain age gap (estimated brain age–chronological age). Robust regressions tested cross-sectional associations between brain age gap and sleep patterns. Exploratory models investigated moderating effects of age and biological gender and, in a subset of the sample, links between sleep, brain age gap, and depression severity (Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Depression).


      Later sleep timing (midsleep) was associated with more advanced brain aging (larger brain age gap), β = 0.1575, puncorr = .0042, pfdr = .0167. Exploratory models suggested that this effect may be driven by males, although the interaction of gender and brain age gap did not survive multiple comparison correction (β = 0.2459, puncorr = .0336, pfdr = .1061). Sleep duration, continuity, and regularity were not significantly associated with brain age gap. Age did not moderate any brain age gap–sleep relationships. In this psychiatrically healthy sample, depression severity was also not associated with brain age gap or sleep.


      Later midsleep may be one behavioral cause or correlate of more advanced brain aging, particularly among males. Future studies should examine whether advanced brain aging and individual differences in sleep precede the onset of suboptimal cognitive-emotional outcomes in adolescents.


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