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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  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Had a virus 5 years ago, since then have slept for 2hour periods then 1 hour awake cycling like this all night. Recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, consultant explained never achieving rem sleep added to increased pain and reduced repair of body. Ergo exhausted. Now on new medication and averaging 8-10 hours sleep. Coping better with level of pain. There is some hope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    "More than 700 genes were altered by the shift [in sleep patterns]". Probably this should read "*The expression* of more than 700 genes ..." It's unlikely that genetic mutations occurred. The alterations were detected blood samples so what was detected - proteins in the blood, or altered gene expression by eukaryotic cells in blood? These things are important!

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    I would definitely agree with the obesity factor, since i've been sacrificing my sleep staying up late eating and drinking I've noticed considerable weight gain in recent years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    #229. On average women live longer than men because, on average, women lead healthier lifestyles, i.e. they drink less, they smoke less, they eat better. These factors are far more significant than a few months not sleeping as well. If you read the scientific article you will see the numbers indicate small changes in factors that can cause big issues, not big changes as stated by this article

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I must be the exception to the rule. Due to mental illness, I have always been sleep deprived. I've never used an alarm clock in my life, and for 3 years I never got more than 2 hours sleep at a time. I am very healthy physically with normal weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. I've had one cold in the last 20 years, no flu or any other contagious disease.
    Maybe being vegetarian helps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    the reason the body repairers when you sleep is because we release growth hormone only then,this important link seams to have been missed hear,i believe all above dr's need the sack for not knowing this.also that drug your looking for is hgh & is readily available,its known to reverse aging too,i believe its time to study this special hormone to release its potential.i should get paid for this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    229. LunaRaine

    "How about mothers though? Women live longer than men.."

    Historically yes, but that was before they started over-eating, binge-drinking and collapsing in their own excretia in the gutter. The times they are a-changing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    216Jack Merde

    The best sleeping pill known to man - Orgasm. ZZZzzzzzzz....
    And to your woman?

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Millions do not have refreshing sleep.
    Try this have 2 sleeps per night. It was common in medieval times.
    Go to bed at say 9 o'clock. Wake up at 1:00 am.
    Have an hour so take a hot drink, read or pursue a hobby.
    Go back to bed till 6:00 am.
    You'll feel better within a week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Lack of sleep definitely alters my genes, I mutate into the Incredible Sulk!

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    How about mothers though? Women live longer than men, but a pregnant woman is less likely to sleep well in preparation for night feeds, and then when the breastfeeding starts you can have anything up to a year of very disturbed sleep. We have done this for, well, ever. So there must be more to it than just lack of sleep else shift workers would not suffer more than a mum, and they do suffer more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    The changes can't be that drastic or important otherwise we would already know about them. But then again I strongly suspect that this article doesn't fairly respect the scientific paper the inspired it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    It is nice to have this info ... i got a lot of problem with my sleep. I will try to change it soon

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    How come the beeb aren't pulling the anti-Thatcher comments?
    Can't say as I liked her either but it's a bit rich when comments on Milliband and Cameron get removed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Disrupted sleep patterns are something I could write a book about, all those hours in the wee of the morn, no sleep but thank god for BBC Radio 4 extra and before that BBC World Service, they keep me occupied when I get tired of reading/listening to music.

    I used to try various prescription drugs available to me during my nursing career, but the most I could sleep was for 4 hours.

  • Comment number 224.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Bastiat seems not to be with us on this topic so on his behalf:

    Sleep is socialism. The free market will fix everything
    Employers should be allowed to make staff work for any length of time and simply replace them when they get ill and die. Low life expectency will bring down the cost of healthcare. Low or no taxes will ensure that the rich sleep more comfortably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    I have often wondered if there is a link between lack of sleep and dementia,genes,bio-chemical and minerals?

    If there is a link ive had it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    My sleep patterns were disrupted because of the night shifts I worked as a nurse some 30 odd years ago. I worked then & now (not as a nurse) Imight add, on max 4 hours sleep. If my sleep is disturbed that is it. Used to stress me out. I was on prescribed drugs for sleep for some time and when my GP wanted me to cut down on it, I gave it up and nowadays I just try to relax instead of stressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Last summer,spent a 6 week long stay in the hospital. Continual "vital signs" checks at all hours made continual sleep impossible. Mind became addled. Nurse told me I had what is known as hospital head. Takes 3 days to recover for every day I was in the joint. Thought prosess/ sleep started returning to normal around Crhistmas.


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