Lack of Sleep ‘Switches Off’ Genes, Scientists Claim

One week of bad sleep can “switch off” hundreds of genes, leading to illnesses.

People who have bad sleep during one week are more disposed to various illnesses, a new study suggests. Photo: RelaxingMusic/Flickr

According to researchers, lack of sleep can deactivate genes, thus increasing the risk of obesity, heart disease and other illnesses.

“Getting fewer than six hours’ sleep per night ‘switches off’ genes which play an important role in the body’s constant ability to repair and replenish itself,” The Telegraph explains.

“Our bodies depend on genes to produce a constant supply of proteins which are used to replace or repair damaged tissue, but after a week of sleep deprivation some of these stopped working.”

Scientists found out that chronic bad sleep could prevent the body from fully replenishing itself and raise the risk of numerous of diseases.

Researchers from Surrey University divided 26 volunteers into two groups, one of which slept for less than six hours per night for one week, while people in the other group slept for ten hours per night.

At the end of the week each group was kept awake for 40 hours and donated blood samples, which were later studied to examine carefully the effects of their sleep regimes.

It was found that the one-week lack of sleep has altered the function of 711 genes, including some responsible for metabolism, inflammation, immunity and stress.

Although a week’s normal sleep is reported to be enough to bring the affected genes to their normal pattern, scientists claim that prolonged periods of sleeplessness could lead to serious health problems including obesity and heart disease.

Moreover, a lack of sleep can lead to cognitive impairment, for example limiting our ability to drive a car safely.

Prof Colin Smith, one of the authors of the new paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, said:

“This is only a week of sleep restriction and it is only five and a half or six hours a night. Many people have that amount of sleep for weeks, months and maybe even years so we have no idea how much worse it might be.”

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

By the way, one more study has been conducted earlier, which claims that people who suffer from disturbed sleep may have a heightened risk of dying from cancer.

It’s a well-known fact that snoring is one of the main symptoms of sleep disordered breathing (SDB). American scientists had conducted a research which has shown an association between SDB and cancer death.

Lack of oxygen stimulates the generation of blood vessels that nourish tumours, a process also known as angiogenesis. SDB covers a range of disorders that lead to interrupted breathing during sleep.

By the way, the most common disorder is obstructive sleep apnoea, due to which the airway collapses, leaving the sleeper struggling for breath. Typically this produces snoring and repeated forced waking.

Sleep apnoea can be linked to such illnesses as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. A research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US also points to a connection with cancer mortality.

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