Published: 11 March 2013

Lack of sleep alters human gene activity

With today’s busy, high-pressured lifestyles, a good nights sleep can sometimes feel like a luxury we can’t afford. But would you think twice about burning the midnight oil if insufficient slumber didn’t just result in an irritable, groggy feeling the next morning, but could also have a more serious long-term impact on your health?

Researchers from the University of Surrey have found that as little as one week of inadequate sleep is enough to alter the internal workings of the human body.

The team used a variety of tests to monitor 26 people after they had had a week of plenty of sleep (up to 10 hours per night), and after a week of fewer than six hours’ snoozing.

The results showed that a lack of sleep affects the activity of more than 700 of our genes, including those that govern the immune system, the body's response to stress and our natural body clock.

Sleep deficiency can lead to a host of health conditions including obesity, heart disease and cognitive impairment.

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, Director of the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, said: “This research has helped us to understand the effects of insufficient sleep on gene expression.  Now that we have identified these effects we can use this information to further investigate the links between gene expression and overall health.”

Colin Smith, Professor of Functional Genomics at the University of Surrey, added: “The current interest in sleep and circadian rhythms as determinants of health and disease is a vital area of research.  By combining our expertise in sleep and ‘genomics’ (the study of the full complement of our genes), we are starting to make breakthroughs that will have an impact on our understanding and treatment of poor health arising from insufficient sleep.”

Find out more about the work at the University of Surrey’s Clinical Research Centre, where this research took place.


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