Adequate sleep is essential for cognitive and emotion-related functioning, and 9 to 12 hr of sleep is recommended for children ages 6 to 12 years and 8 to 10 hr for children ages 13 to 18 years. However, national survey data indicate that older youth sleep for fewer hours and fall asleep later than younger youth. This shift in sleep duration and timing corresponds with a sharp increase in onset of emotion-related problems (e.g., anxiety, depression) during adolescence. Given that both sleep duration and timing have been linked to emotion-related outcomes, the present study tests the effects of sleep duration and timing, and their interaction, on resting-state functional connectivity (RS-FC) of corticolimbic emotion-related neural circuitry in children and adolescents.
A total of 63 children and adolescents (6-17 years, 34 females) completed a weekend overnight sleep journal and a 10-min resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan the next day (Sunday). Whole-brain RS-FC of the amygdala was computed, and the effects of sleep duration, timing (i.e., midpoint of sleep), and their interaction were explored using regression analyses.
Overall, we found that older youth tended to sleep later and for fewer hours than younger youth. Controlling for age, shorter sleep duration was associated with lower RS-FC between the amygdala and regions implicated in emotion regulation, including ventral anterior cingulate cortex, precentral gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus. Interestingly, midpoint of sleep was associated with altered connectivity in a distinct set of brain regions involved in interoception and sensory processing, including insula, supramarginal gyrus, and postcentral gyrus. Our data also indicate widespread interactive effects of sleep duration and midpoint on brain regions implicated in emotion regulation, sensory processing, and motor control.
These results suggest that both sleep duration and midpoint of sleep are associated with next-day RS-FC within corticolimbic emotion-related neural circuitry in children and adolescents. The observed interactive effects of sleep duration and timing on RS-FC may reflect how homeostatic and circadian process interact in the brain and explain the complex patterns observed with respect to emotional health when considering sleep duration and timing. Sleep-related changes in corticolimbic circuitry may contribute to the onset of emotion-related problems during adolescence.