Inadequate sleep alters the activity
of over 700 genes, scientists report. In the research, sleeping less than
six hours per night for just one week impacted genes related to metabolism, inflammation
Study co-author Professor Colin
Smith of the University of Surrey, UK, said the team 'are starting to make
breakthroughs that will have an impact on our understanding and treatment of
poor health arising from insufficient sleep'.
research links a lack of sleep to obesity, high blood pressure, heart
disease and diabetes. Although this study may help explain that link, the
scientists do not yet know the health effects - if any - of the gene changes observed.
Participants in the study stayed at
the University of Surrey's Sleep Research Centre during the trial, and were
assigned to sleep for either six hours or ten hours per night. After one week
of this sleep pattern, participants had to stay awake for around 40 hours while
blood samples were taken and analysed. Following a break, the same participants
were switched to the opposite sleep pattern and their blood tests analysed
The scientists looked at levels
of RNA in the blood, comparing levels after sufficient sleep to levels after insufficient
sleep. RNA levels are used as an indirect measure of gene activity.
In addition to finding significant
differences for RNA levels associated with 711 genes whose activity would
otherwise be stable, the researchers looked at RNAs with a circadian rhythm;
that is those that fluctuate according to the time of day. They found that 374 of the
1,855 genes linked to circadian rhythm stopped fluctuating in people who had
been sleep deprived. Again, the implications of this are unclear.
Professor Jim Horne, of
Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre, who was not involved in the
study, advised caution in interpreting the results. He told the
Guardian: 'The need for eight hours of sleep a night [is] often overplayed
and can cause undue worry. Although this important study seems to support this
concern, the participants had their sleep suddenly restricted [...] which must
have been somewhat stressful'. He suggests those sleeping six hours per night routinely
The study, published in the
journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), was small, involving only 26 healthy participants, and its wider applicability
is as yet unknown.