Are you getting enough sleep?
Quite a surprising number of your genes and the proteins they make are regulated by the clock. Maybe it’s not so surprising; humans are, after all, better designed to function in the light than in the dark, and for most of human existence night time was pretty much dark and thus activity took place during the day.
Like us, the bigger entity of which they are a part, these clock-driven genes work differently at different times of their daily cycle. (They have a daily cycle!) This cycle or rhythm of activity is adversely affected by lack of sleep.
Again like us, our genes don’t function as well on short sleep rations. They may work less, or they may hurry along and work more. Either way, the chemistry of the body is changed, with larger or smaller quantities of proteins being produced.
The areas of the body that can be affected by the sleepy gene phenomenon are wide-ranging, and none of them areas with no consequences:
- Immune function
- Stress responses
- Response to damage in the body (repair work)
- Inflammatory responses
- Making new cells to replenish body stores
- Development of degenerative disease such as Type II diabetes
The importance of allowing your body sufficient slumber time has been flagged up again and again over the past years, with research showing the role of sleep in vulnerability to colds, weight gain, pain perception, high cholesterol, diabetes, fatigue and emotional balance. Now research is pinpointing some of the mechanisms by which these adverse effects develop: knocking your genes out of synch.1
1Mőller-Levet CS et al. Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Published online before print February 25, 2013, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1217154110
How much is enough?
The research looked at people who were allowed less than six hours of sleep per night for a week (these were volunteers, by the way!).
Their blood was examined on a minute level, looking at its RNA content, and compared with their blood when given a week’s worth of more than 10 hours sleep.
No one is going to be surprised that their blood was perkier and generally healthier when they were getting sufficient sleep, but possibly we had not previously appreciated how deeply the adverse effects of sleep deprivation dug into our very cells – to the core!
What’s more, the genes thus affected were then more sensitive to further sleep deprivation, like a famine victim nervously eyeing up the next meal.
So, less than six hours isn’t good for your genes. And what’s not good for your genes isn’t good for you.