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Sleep deprivation disrupts genes

Filed in
  • poor sleep
  • Sleep Disorders
  • sleep length

By Lynn Celmer  |  Mar 01, 2013
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A new study found that as little as one week of sleep deprivation is enough to alter the activity of hundreds of human genes.

The study, appearing in the journal PNAS, involved a small group of 26 participants who were exposed to one week of insufficient sleep (5.7 hours) and one week of sufficient sleep (8.5 hours). After each seven day period, the researchers collected and looked at blood samples that included ribonucleic acid (RNA), which transmits genetic information from DNA to proteins produced by cells.

Results show that inadequate sleep affects the activity of over 700 of our genes. These included genes which are linked to controlling inflammation, immunity and the response to stress. The research also showed that inadequate sleep reduced the number of genes that normally peak and wane in expression throughout the 24-hour day from 1,855 to 1,481. The authors found that that number of genes affected by sleep deprivation was seven times higher after a week of insufficient sleep.

Sleep deficiency leads to a host of significant health conditions including obesity, heart disease, and cognitive impairment, but until now scientists were unclear how gene expression patterns were altered by insufficient sleep. These "gene expression" patterns provide important clues on the potential molecular mechanisms linking sleep and overall health.

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

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine considers sleep disorders an illness that has reached epidemic proportions. Board-certified sleep medicine physicians in an AASM-accredited sleep center provide effective treatment. AASM encourages patients to talk to their doctors about sleep problems or visit for a searchable directory of sleep centers.