Bad sleep 'dramatically' alters body


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A run of poor sleep can have a potentially profound effect on the internal workings of the human body, say UK researchers.

The activity of hundreds of genes was altered when people's sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week.

Writing in the journal PNAS, the researchers said the results helped explain how poor sleep damaged health.

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function have all been linked to substandard sleep.

What missing hours in bed actually does to alter health, however, is unknown.

So researchers at the University of Surrey analysed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week, and compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night.

More than 700 genes were altered by the shift. Each contains the instructions for building a protein, so those that became more active produced more proteins - changing the chemistry of the body.

How to get a better night's sleep

A man yawning

Sources: Mental Health Foundation and BBC Science

Meanwhile the natural body clock was disturbed - some genes naturally wax and wane in activity through the day, but this effect was dulled by sleep deprivation.

Prof Colin Smith, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC: "There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes."

Areas such as the immune system and how the body responds to damage and stress were affected.

Prof Smith added: "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."

He said many people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study - suggesting these changes may be common.

Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a specialist in the body clock at the University of Cambridge, said the study was "interesting".

He said the key findings were the effects on inflammation and the immune system as it was possible to see a link between those effects and health problems such as diabetes.

The findings also tie into research attempting to do away with sleep, such as by finding a drug that could eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Dr Reddy said: "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."


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  • Comment number 59.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Many of the comments here puzzled me. They seemed to be dismissive and critical. As a health practitioner I believe that many of our health problems are to do with our lifestyles. Proof of this has implications for our individual choices and social policies that help or hinder people from making good choices. Although I do agree with the criticism of the search for a drug as the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I used to suffer from insomnia and I found that altering my jeans in the middle of the night was quite therapeutic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Then your thinking is way out of date. Do some reading on 'epigenetic mechanisms' 'methylation' and 'gene expression'.

    Also, the copying of DNA sequences to RNA and then on to protein sequences certainly seems like 'activity' to me.


  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Yes, I understand that sleep deprivation is harmful to your body.
    But how to fall asleep, when you can't. I love to fall asleep within 5 min. But it never happens. I always struggle, can never leave my workday stress behind. It sums up when there is an argument at home with my hubby :( I want to know how the research can help me to get my 6 hours sleep every night

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    We live in a modern society that requires evidence as opposed to hearsay.

    Research of this kind is vital for those of us who do work 70+ hours per week and risk keeling over so that the dependents we leave behind have some grounds for support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    'wah wah, i'm not getting enough sleep, wah wah'

    the cry baby generation is the death of the western world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I suspect that some of the commenters who are being negative about this highly interesting research didn't get their eight hours last night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.


    "More sleep makes you lazy nothing else"

    What piece of research are you basing your conclusions on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    As a sleep deprivatee I can tell you that things are worse since the medical supremos came up with the rubbish that medication only works for 4 wks. Chronic insomnia is not treated seriously and yet it affects long term health hence the cost of care. It affects the victim's family, work performance, the lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Parents: i.e. know-it-alls. Everyone saying they already knew this was fully aware of the exact changes sleep had on their genes then? No or course not, you knew you felt like c**p that's all. This is trying to understand the science of why you felt like c**p.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    No wonder the lassie in the picture is having trouble sleeping, she should try turning off the light and that might help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Dont you people realise that if you follow the sleeping guidelines of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Biblical directives on sleeping this society would be a golden utopia totally bereft of all badness where every one is as happy as larry walking around in blissful ignorance not having to even think for themselves!!!

    Beat you to it Ray ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    "26 people
    That's not a research! Thats the equivalent of conducting an election based on a show of hands outside parliament!"

    To be fair, our current government was formed by the parties willing to do the dodgiest deal, as none of them had a mandate to rule from the voting public.

    ...but back to the article. I think 26 people is enough, as the difference was so pronounced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Truly profound and groundbreaking. Well done bbc!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    A drug to counter the effects of sleep-deprivation? I wouldn't mind as long as it was only used for specific therapeutic purposes rather than becoming a common prescription so people can be exploited at work for longer hours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Have a child. Sleep alters whether you like it or not and that is not through choice. Most parents look significantly older than their non child bearing counterparts. That is mainly due to lack of sleep. If you aren't being owken up by a child you are waking up and worrying about your child. My sleep patterns have changed irrevocably since I became a dad. Six hours sleep= luxury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    And how much money did this lot receive to do this little bit of 'research'. Another waste of time energy and money!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I hope there is no research funded by some companies looking to increase work hours to 15 a day maybe or even eliminate the need for sleep altogether just so that the investors can sleep as much as they want before going on a yacht trip on the sea. It does not need a scientist to know what happens the next morning when u have had a long night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    You can talk all you like about genes but I don't think the kind of trousers one wears have much to do with sleep patterns - particularly as most people take them off before going to bed.............hopefully.....


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