Epigenetic Aging and Immune Senescence in Women With Insomnia Symptoms: Findings From the Women's Health Initiative Study

Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Jan 15;81(2):136-144. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.07.008. Epub 2016 Jul 26.


Background: Insomnia symptoms are associated with vulnerability to age-related morbidity and mortality. Cross-sectional data suggest that accelerated biological aging may be a mechanism through which sleep influences risk. A novel method for determining age acceleration using epigenetic methylation to DNA has demonstrated predictive utility as an epigenetic clock and prognostic of age-related morbidity and mortality.

Methods: We examined the association of epigenetic age and immune cell aging with sleep in the Women's Health Initiative study (N = 2078; mean 64.5 ± 7.1 years of age) with assessment of insomnia symptoms (restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, waking at night, trouble getting back to sleep, and early awakenings), sleep duration (short sleep 5 hours or less; long sleep greater than 8 hours), epigenetic age, naive T cell (CD8+CD45RA+CCR7+), and late differentiated T cells (CD8+CD28-CD45RA-).

Results: Insomnia symptoms were related to advanced epigenetic age (β ± SE = 1.02 ± 0.37, p = .005) after adjustments for covariates. Insomnia symptoms were also associated with more late differentiated T cells (β ± SE = 0.59 ± 0.21, p = .006), but not with naive T cells. Self-reported short and long sleep duration were unrelated to epigenetic age. Short sleep, but not long sleep, was associated with fewer naive T cells (p < .005) and neither was related to late differentiated T cells.

Conclusions: Symptoms of insomnia were associated with increased epigenetic age of blood tissue and were associated with higher counts of late differentiated CD8+ T cells. Short sleep was unrelated to epigenetic age and late differentiated cell counts, but was related to a decline in naive T cells. In this large population-based study of women in the United States, insomnia symptoms are implicated in accelerated aging.

Keywords: Aging; Epigenetic; Immunosenescence; Insomnia; Methylation; Sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosenescence*
  • Middle Aged
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / blood
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / genetics*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • United States
  • Women's Health