British researchers say that losing sleep at night could do more than make you cranky the next day. It might actually cause your genes to become less active.
The end result of losing sleep for more than a night or two could mean a greater risk for developing obesity, heart disease, or diabetes, according to CBS News. The British scientists, led by Simon Archer of the University of Surrey, corroborated earlier findings that lack of sleep and disruption of the body's circadian rhythms could result in negative health conditions.
However, the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences went a step further by suggesting that sleep disruption affects the activity level of genes. After following 26 subjects who had insufficient sleep for a week, the researchers concluded that this period was long enough to reduce gene activity and throw off balance the body's circadian rhythms in gene expression.
The affected genes have a role in chromatin remodeling. They're involved in the body's response to stress and how the immune system functions. Sufficient sleep deprivation can disrupt normal metabolism, making a person subject to illness, the study found.
An oft-quoted ideal of eight hours of daily sleep isn't happening for many Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep has become a U.S. public health epidemic.
The CDC estimates that between 50 million and 70 million U.S. adults suffer from a sleep or wakefulness disorder. Agency information for adults in 12 states indicates that among those at least 18 but less than 25 years old, nearly 44 percent unintentionally fell asleep in 2009 during the day at least once in the preceding month.
The National Science Foundation indicates there is no "magic number" for the amount of sleep adults need daily. However, the CDC says that National Health Interview Survey information shows that almost 30 percent of adults averaged six or fewer hours between 2005 and 2007.
Subjects in the British study averaged 5.7 hours of sleep during their restricted week. The following week, researchers permitted them to sleep up to 10 hours each night, with an average of 8.5 hours. Analyses of blood drawn at the end of each week showed changes in more than 700 genes.
Although the scientists don't know the precise cause, 374 genes were significantly affected, many of them showing reduced activity. The researchers concluded that over time, this can cause organ impairment, disease processes, and other permanent health effects.
For more than a decade, I've struggled with sleep deprivation due mostly to sleep apnea and chronic pain from repeated surgeries. Forced-air equipment for the apnea isn't a match for me. Steps to control pain have included relaxation techniques like meditation. Knowing that sleep deprivation could hamper gene activity attaches an urgency to my attempts to reduce sleep deprivation.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.
- Disease & Medical Conditions
- sleep deprivation