A new study has shed light on how a lack of sleep can damage health and increase the risk of various diseases, including obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Scientists from Surrey University found that one week of poor sleep disrupts hundreds of genes that are vital for fighting disease and maintaining good health .
For their research, they analysed the blood of 26 healthy individuals aged between 23 and 31 years after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week. They then compared the results with blood samples after a week of less than six hours sleep per night.
Among those who got less than six hours’ sleep per night, the results showed substantial changes in the activity of 711 genes involved in the body’s immune system, metabolism, inflammation, response to stress and biological clock. The activity of 444 genes was suppressed, while 267 genes became more active – changing the chemistry of the body.
According to the scientists, changes to genes that control metabolism, the immune system and the body’s inflammatory response could trigger or worsen conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Professor Colin Smith, one of the authors of the study, said: “This is only a week of sleep restriction and it is only five and a half or six hours a night. Many people have that amount of sleep for weeks, months and maybe even years so we have no idea how much worse it might be.
“If you are not able to replenish or replace cells and tissues that are damaged then you are going to suffer permanent ill health.”
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

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