We've long known that a lack of sleep makes us feel irritable and crave carbohydrates, not to mention make our skin look dull.
Now scientists say that just one week of poor sleep can disrupt hundreds of genes, increasing the risk of a host of life-threatening illnesses linked to stress, immunity and inflammation.
The discovery could explain why lack of sleep is so bad for the health, they say.
Sleep deficiency is associated with a host of conditions including obesity, heart disease and mental impairment
For the new study, researchers examined gene activity in 26 sleep-deprived volunteers.
They found that insufficient sleep had an impact on more than 700 genes.
Some had their activity dampened, while others became extra-active.
Those affected included genes associated with the ‘body clock’ cycle, metabolism, and immune and stress responses.
The scientists were led by sleep expert Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, from the University of Surrey, who described sleep as a ‘pillar of health’ - just like diet and exercise.
The researchers wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: ‘Insufficient sleep is increasingly recognised as contributing to a wide range of health problems.
'Multiple studies have shown self-reported short sleep duration - defined in most studies as less than six hours - is associated with negative health outcomes such as all-cause mortality, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and impaired vigilance and cognition.'
Indeed, sleep deficiency is associated with a host of conditions including obesity, heart disease and mental impairment.
Sleep expert Professor Derk-Jan Dijk described sleep as a 'pillar of health' - just like diet and exercise
Prof Dijk’s team analysed RNA - the messenger chemical that delivers coded ‘instructions’ from the genes to cells - in the blood of volunteers. RNA can be used as a tool to measure gene activity.
Participants were exposed to a week of poor sleep during which they slept no more than six hours a night.
At the end of this time, they had to stay awake for around 40 hours while RNA samples were collected at three hourly intervals.
The results were compared with the effect on the same volunteers of sleeping up to 10 hours a night for a week.
Again, RNA samples were taken during a long period of wakefulness at the end of the study period.
During the ‘sleep-restriction condition’ volunteers got an average of 5.70 hours sleep a night.
The scientists noted: ‘Sleep obtained in the sleep-restriction condition was not sufficient to maintain alertness or performance.’
The findings may be relevant to many people living in industrialised societies, they said.
For many thousands of Britons sleeplessness is a grinding fact of life - one in eight sleeps for less than six hours a night and more than a third suffer from insomnia at some time.
The news comes just after scientists in Germany discovered that children who get a good night’s sleep have a boosted memory.
The researchers at the University of Tuebingen, Germany, found that during deep sleep children have slower wave activity in their brains and that this is critical to the ability to learn, think and remember.
Therefore, if sleep is disrupted, their ability to remember things they have learned will be affected
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2284275/Just-ONE-WEEK-disrupted-sleep-play-havoc-health.html#ixzz2M1lOHuDt
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