Sleep loss alters your genes

Wednesday 22nd July 2015

We all know the consequences of an all-nighter; tiredness, feeling constantly hungry and craving caffeine. More significantly, excessive sleep loss has been linked to increased blood pressure, risk of obesity and type-2 diabetes, reduced learning ability and digestive problems. For most of us all nighters are relatively rare though, so there’s no need to be too worried, right?


A recent study finds this may not be the case. Researchers at Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have found that losing even just one night of sleep has significant implications for our bodies.

The researchers studied 15 healthy men during two nights; for one they were allowed a full night of 8 hours sleep, for the other they were kept awake overnight. The next morning each individual had blood samples taken before and after they drank a sugary solution – a common method used to measure insulin activity. Tissue samples were also taken and underwent gene expression analysis for ‘clock’ genes, which regulate our body clocks.

The expression of clock genes is regulated by a mechanism known as epigenetics. Epigenetics determines which genes are active and which are inactive through chemical alterations, such as DNA methylation. The study found after sleep loss gene methylation occurred unexpectedly quickly causing an increase in epigenetic activity in the metabolically important clock genes.

This means genes involved in regulating our body clock and metabolism are altered after just one night without sleep. The findings also showed that blood glucose levels were higher after sleep deprivation once they consumed the sugary drink. The changes in body clock genes are therefore a likely cause of impaired glucose regulation in sleep-deprived individuals.

The researchers did not measure how long gene alterations remain and so are unsure how long-lasting the adverse effects might be. However, until more research is done it may be wise to try and stick to a regular 8 hour sleeping pattern.




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