Puberty, or adolescence, is when the human can first start reproducing. When this occurs varies considerably from person-to-person. Factors that may influence when puberty commences include the individuals genetic makeup, nutritional habits, their environment, some social factors, and according to this study, their sleeping habits.
Puberty may start between the ages of 8 and 13 for females and 9 and 14 for males.
The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM), has reported that changes which affect girls and boys throughout puberty are actually prompted by occurrences in the brain.
Prior trials have shown that sections of the brain responsible for controlling puberty begin working while a person is sleeping, however, the current study shows that deep sleep is the key to jump-starting puberty, not just sleep in general.
Researchers in a 2010 study found that the hormone Leptin may actually trigger the onset of puberty in girls by targeting the PMV (premammillary nucleus), a part of the hypothalamus in the brain.
"Deep sleep" or "slow-wave sleep" (SWS) is stages 3 and 4 of non-rapid eye movement, however, since 2008, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has terminated the use of stage 4, which resulted in 3 and 4 becoming one stage.
Deep sleep is the stage where dreaming is most common. Dreams that occur during this phase are less vivid, harder to remember and less connected than dreams during REM sleep.
Natalie Shaw, MD, lead author of the study from Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital commented:
"If the parts of the brain the brain that activate the reproductive system depend on deep sleep, then we need to be concerned that inadequate or disturbed sleep in children and young adolescents may interfere with normal pubertal maturation. This is particularly true for children who have been diagnosed with sleep disorders, but may also have more widespread implications as recent studies have found that most adolescents get less sleep than they require."
For this study, the experts analyzed luteinizing hormone (LH) secretion, in connection with particular stages of sleep among children between the ages of 9 and 15.
LH is crucial for prompting ovulation in girls and testosterone production in males, making it an essential part of reproduction.
The experts determined that most LH pulses happening after an individual is asleep are followed by deep sleep, which means that deep sleep is closely associated with the beginning process of puberty.
A previous study, conducted in 2009 and published in the journal Sleep, suggests that changes in sleeping patterns among children between the ages of 11 and 12 sometimes are evident before the physical changes that come with puberty, i.e. it is extremely important to try to keep children and adolescents on regular sleeping patterns when they are on the threshold of puberty.
Written by Christine Kearney