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Losing sleep in adolescence makes mice less outgoing as adults

Mice sleeping

Having sleep interruptions during adolescence resulted in mice preferring to spend time with known acquaintances -- and less interested in making new ones -- later in life.

Mark.Hooper.Glos image.

Jun 29 2022

By Nina Bai

Many a teenager has been admonished for staying up too late before a big exam. And for good reason: Sleep is well-known to aid memory and learning. But what if sleep in adolescence also held long-term consequences in social behavior? New research by Stanford Medicine investigators shows that, in mice at least, poor sleep as "teenagers" can lead to lower interest in new social interactions as adults. 

Not only do these results hint at similar implications for human sleep, but they could also help explain why sleep problems are so common in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and schizophrenia, which also exhibit social deficits, said Wen-Jie Bian, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Luis de Lecea, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Bian is first author of the study recently published in Nature Neuroscience.

When researchers disturbed the sleep of adolescent mice for just five days, the mice showed distinctive changes in social behavior as young adults. They still preferred interacting with another mouse to being alone -- suggesting their sociability was intact.

But they showed less interest in making further new acquaintances -- a decrease in what researchers call social novelty preference. The researchers traced the effect to a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, or VTA, which contains dopamine-releasing neurons that are involved in reward-seeking behavior.