We all know a good night’s sleep works wonders. But what exactly does a bad night’s sleep, or more do?
According to a study by UK researchers, the effects of poor sleep in just a few days are dramatic.
Research showed that activity levels of hundreds of genes were drastically altered when a person’s sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week.
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists said the results helped to explain how a bad night’s sleep damaged people’s health.
While the National Institute of Health alreadys know that when people don’t get enough sleep, have poor-quality rest, or sleep at the wrong times of day, they are at a higher risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and depression — less was known about the effects of sleep and lack of sleep on the internal workings of the body.
Researchers at Surrey University analyzed blood samples of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep — up to 10 hours each night for a week — then compared the results with blood samples taken after a week of fewer than six hours a night.
According to BBC News more than 700 genes were altered by the shift in sleep pattern. Each gene contains the instructions for building a protein, those that became more active produced more proteins, thus changing the chemistry of the body. But when the natural body clock was disturbed, the protein-building was dulled by sleep deprivation.
Prof Colin Smith, lead researcher from the University of Surrey, told the BBC:
“There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes.Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur – hinting at what may lead to ill health. If we can’t actually replenish and replace new cells, then that’s going to lead to degenerative diseases.”
Smith said the areas most affected by bad sleep patterns were the body’s stress levels and the immune system. He added that many more people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study, which suggests these damaging changes may be common.
While the participants were awake, their performance was assessed. When people in the group didn’t get enough sleep, they suffered more lapses in attention than when they had an adequate amount of rest, the study found.
Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a body clock expert at Cambridge University, has called the findings “interesting.” For him, key results were the effects of sleeplessness on inflammation and the immune system, as it means it is now possible to see a link between those effects and health problems such as diabetes, Bloomberg notes.
The study could also impact ongoing research looking for ways to do away with sleep altogether, and attempts to eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation with drugs.
“We don’t know what the switch is that causes all these changes, but theoretically if you could switch it on or off, you might be able to get away without sleep. But my feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells.”
One of the most shocking things about the study was how short a time it took for bad sleep patterns to affect health. Scientists currently believe most adults need between seven hours to nine hours of rest each night.