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Study: Lack of Sleep May Disrupt Genes

Feb 28th, 2013

Lack of SleepTossing and turning at night may cause more than just drowsiness. According to a recent study, sleep deprivation may actually affect your genes, increasing the risk for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

The study was published on Feb. 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How your health is affected by insomnia-induced genetic disruptions is still unclear. However, the research opens up the possibility that lack of sleep can have long-term effects on your body.

“If people regularly restrict their sleep, it is possible that the disruption that we see…could have an impact over time that ultimately determines their health outcomes as they age in later life,” said Simon Archer, co-author and sleep expert at the University of Surrey in England.

Experts recommend that average adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, more than 25 percent of Americans say that they do not get enough sleep and another 10 percent have chronic insomnia, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2012 showed that 41 percent of the respondents had at least a few restless nights each week, and another 24 percent reported sleep disruptions caused by their partner’s movements.

Several studies have associated lack of sleep with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Poor sleep has also been implicated in several motor vehicle accidents. A report by the CDC published early this year revealed that 4.2 percent of drivers admitted to dozing off behind the wheel.

For the study, 26 volunteers we’re asked to spend a week getting a normal amount of sleep (8.5 hours average) and another week getting less than normal amount of sleep (5.7 hours average). All volunteers managed to enter deep sleep during the entire experiment. Blood samples were drawn and compared.

Researchers observed changes in more than 700 genes. Among the 1,855 genes known to undergo changes throughout the day, about 374 were affected. However, scientists were not able to determine what exactly caused the changes.

Some of the changes were similar to those observed when normal and abnormal tissues are separated in the body, Archer said.

The negative effects on the genes are a cause for concern, warned Colin Smith, co-author and professor of genomics at the University of Surrey. If a week’s worth of lack of sleep has done this much damage, it’s likely that the consequences are much worse in people who sleep poorly for longer periods of time, he added.

“If these processes continue to be disrupted, you could see how you are going to get impairment of organs, tissues, heart disease, obesity, diabetes,” he said. “If you are not able to replenish cells and tissues that are damaged then you are going to suffer permanent ill health.”


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