Insufficient amounts of sleep over a prolonged period can have a profound effect on the functioning of the human body, according to British researchers.
One experiment concluded that the activity of hundreds of genes in the body of volunteers was altered when they slept less than six hours a night for a week.
The researchers said that the results of the study help explain how insufficient sleep impairs health. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and brain malfunction were linked to poor sleep.
The process by which sleep deficit alters health, however, is not yet known.
The team at the University of Surrey in England collected blood samples from 26 people after they had slept up to ten hours per night – for a whole week, in the second phase of the experiment, the same group underwent a week of insufficient sleep – less than six hours per night. Samples of blood were collected again.
When comparing the samples, the scientists observed that the activity of more than 700 genes in the participants’ bodies was altered after the change in the pattern of their sleep.
Each gene contains instructions for making a protein. Therefore, those who became more active produced more proteins. This completely changed the chemical configuration in the volunteers’ bodies.
The natural clock of their bodies was also disturbed by the lack of sleep.
The activity of some genes increases and decreases throughout the day, but this effect has been weakened by the sleep deficit. Speaking to the BBC, the University of Surrey’s researcher said that “there has been a dramatic shift in the activity of many different types of genes.”
“The areas such as the immune system and how the body reacts to damage and stress have been affected,” he added. “Clearly, sleep is essential for body reconstruction and maintaining a functional state, otherwise several types of damage seem to occur, which will result in illness.” If we cannot replenish or replace cells, this leads to the formation of degenerative diseases. ”
The specialist said that many people may be living with even greater sleep deficits than those studied. This means that these changes in genes can be common.
Commenting on the results of the experiment, another researcher from the University of Cambridge, UK, said the study is interesting. For him, the most important revelations are the effects of insufficient sleep on inflammation and the immune system. He explained that it is possible to establish the link between these effects and health problems such as diabetes.