If you have ever experienced…
…a spell of poor sleeping, or suffer from insomnia, you will know the impact it can have on your life and on those around you.
An article on the BBC website reveals just how dramatically bad sleep can alter the body.
It reveals that UK researchers say that a run of bad sleep can have a potentially profound effect on the human body’s internal workings.
The article says that when people had their sleep cut to less than six hours a day for a week the activity of hundreds of genes was changed.
The researchers write about their findings in the PNAS journal, saying the results helped to explain how damaging to health poor sleep is.
Researchers at the University of Surrey looked at the blood of 26 people after they had had ample sleep: up to 10 hours a night for a week. They then compared the results with samples of a week of less than six hours a night.
Over 700 genes were changed by the shift. Each gene carries the instructions for creating a protein: those that became more active made more proteins, which changed the chemistry of the body.
The natural body clock became disturbed, with the sleep deprivation dulling the natural day-time activity of the genes.
“There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes,” said Professor Colin Smith from the University of Surrey.
Areas affected included the immune system and how the body responded to damage and stress.
Professor Smith said: “Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur – hinting at what may lead to ill health.
“If we can’t actually replenish and replace new cells, then that’s going to lead to degenerative diseases.”
He said many people may be more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those people in the study – suggesting that these changes may be common.
Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a body clock specialist at the University of Cambridge, said the sleep study was “interesting”.
He said the main findings were the effects on inflammation and the immune system as a correlation between those effects and health problems like diabetes could be seen.
The findings also link to research attempting to do away with sleep, such as by discovering a drug that could eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.
Dr Reddy said: “We don’t know what the switch is that causes all these changes, but theoretically if you could switch it on or off, you might be able to get away without sleep.
“But my feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells.”
I have only ever suffered from real lack of sleep for relatively short periods of time: mainly when my children were young, but I have experienced the real impact it can have. I am very protective of my sleep time and always try and ensure I get a good night’s sleep. If I feel like I need a good night’s sleep I will have a warm bath, perhaps with some lavender oil in, light a few candles and then go to bed without watching any television. This works for me, but of course everyone needs to find their own secret to getting a good night’s sleep.
I know friends who work shift patterns find their sleep disturbed and perhaps research like this will help employees see the true results of shift work on people’s health.