What is the relationship between sleep and telomere lengths? Shorter telomeres has a direct relationship with cell aging; thus, this is definitely an important topic to discuss.
For this section, we will examine 10 different scientific studies that discuss telomere lengths and sleep.
- Some of them assess sleep durations and telomere lengths.
- Others compare sleep quality with telomere lengths.
- Some studies some compare sleep apnea and insomnia symptoms.
All these articles show that there are several different perspectives at play.
But first, what are telomeres? In simple terms, telomeres are associated with cell aging. They are essentially sticks at the end of chromosomes; additionally, they act as marks for how many times cells are able to divide. Once the telomere is used up, that’s it. There will not be any more cell divisions.
The study “Sleep Duration and Telomere Length in Children” showed the following:
- Children who sleep less have shorter telomeres, which is a bad sign.
- There are more telomere length alteration monitoring in only adults, because the effects will be visible by that time. Thus, the fact that changes are already visible in children is a bad sign.
- However, there was only a difference of less than a percent of the whole telomere length.
Overall, the results are not completely awful news.
- Here, the subjects were of different ages, but all of them suffered from HIV.
- People who slept less than 7 hours a night had 9% shorter telomeres than people who slept at least 7 hours a day. However, it is uncertain if the effects were mostly visible in older adults or in young adults.
Regardless, this next study, “Shorter Leukocyte Telomere Length in Midlife Women with Poor Sleep Quality” actually showed a different perspective.
- The telomere lengths of women were in comparison with their sleep quality.
- What’s interesting is that the sleep duration did not affect the telomere lengths significantly, but the sleep quality did.
According to this study, bad sleep quality will affect your telomeres. Nevertheless, shorter sleep durations do not suffer the same thing.
Moreover, there is also this study, “Cellular Aging and Restorative Processes: Subjective Sleep Quality and Duration Moderate the Association between Age and Telomere Length in a Sample of Middle-Aged and Older Adults”. There are even more interesting results.
- There were evaluations on both middle-aged and older adults’ sleeping patterns.
- Middle-aged people did not have any significantly shorter telomeres regardless of their sleep durations. However, the older adults did.
This suggests that older adults should not attempt to reduce sleep.
Speaking of aging, this paper “Insomnia and Telomere Length in Older Adults” found the following:
- People who suffered from insomnia also had shorter telomeres than people who did not. However, this only applies when they were older than 70.
The finding insinuates that insomnia is not totally destructive and incurable. Attempting polyphasic sleep is still a possible lifestyle.
In addition, this paper “Long Sleep Duration, Insomnia, and Insomnia With Short Objective Sleep Duration Are Independently Associated With Short Telomere Length” also reported the following:
- Insomnia had a direct relationship with shorter telomeres.
- People who slept for long durations had significantly shorter telomeres!
Sleep apnea study clusters
Next, we present a few studies on how sleep apnea is related to telomere lengths. Sleep apnea is often a result of an obstruction in the throat; as a result, people will have issues breathing while sleeping. In addition, they will subconsciously wake up very frequently and their sleep quality is absolutely out of whack.
The results of these papers should therefore be sufficient to compare how sleep quality fares with telomere lengths.
This paper, “The history of sleep apnea is associated with shorter leukocyte telomere length: the Helsinki Birth” found that:
- Sleep apnea reduces telomere lengths.
However, this paper, “Moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with telomere lengthening” found:
- There is no correlation between sleep apnea and telomere lengths
The following study, “Tired telomeres: Poor global sleep quality, perceived stress, and telomere length in immune cell subsets in obese men and women” found the following:
- There is a correlation between decreased sleep quality and shorter telomeres.
- However, there were no correlations between sleep durations and telomere lengths.
Finally, this article, “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Shorter Telomere Length in Healthy Men: Findings from the Whitehall II Cohort Study” found that:
- There is a relation between shorter sleep durations and shorter telomeres. However, what is interesting is how much shorter they were.
- The study group consisted of only the elderly. In addition, those who slept 5 hours a night only had 6% shorter telomeres than those who slept 7 hours a night.
What does this all suggest? Basically, sleep seems to have a correlation with telomere lengths. Several studies connected shorter sleep durations to shorter telomeres, but several did not. By this point in time, it is uncertain if a decrease of a certain sleep stage, like SWS, would reduce telomere lengths. Alternatively, it is also unclear if the sleep duration as a whole is the biggest factor.
Anyway, what does this mean for polyphasic sleepers? There has to be objective evaluations on the data. The conclusion and recommendation are:
- The safest possible option is to not reduce your total sleep time with polyphasic sleep.
- However, a polyphasic sleeper will have a much better sleep quality than monophasic sleepers.
- Regarding the studies that found a link between sleep quality and telomere lengths, polyphasic sleep can likely be safer than monophasic sleep.
An alternative hypothesis is that the main factor affecting people is stress. For example, this paper called, “Zen meditation, Length of Telomeres, and the Role of Experiential Avoidance and Compassion” found that people who meditate had longer telomeres than people who did not.
- Meditation is also a popular way to decrease personal stress levels.
- This fits the data, since people who sleep for shorter durations may engage in meditation because they are under a lot of stress.
- Polyphasic sleep would certainly be a benefit with meditation and relaxation methods.
Additionally, many people who sleep polyphasically use the extra time for self-care. On the same topic, the relationship between stress and telomere lengths has been under direct investigation, like in a paper called “Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress”. It showed that the more stressful you are, the shorter your telomere lengths become.
Regardless, scientists are working hard to find a way to actually increase telomere lengths; this might not be an issue for anyone regardless of their habits in a few decades. For now, the safest option for polyphasic sleep is to allocate some time for self-care each day. As an alternative, supplement this time with frequent meditation.
In order to find evidence that polyphasic sleeping is detrimental, you should show:
- Telomeres shorten a significant amount from reducing light sleep.