Losing a night of sleep can alter the genes that control our biological clocks, according to a new study by Swedish researchers.
Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institute highlighted that previous studies showed sleep loss can increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
In their study, they recruited 15 men of a normal weight who slept in a laboratory for two nights. On the first night, they slept for around eight hours, but on the second night, they were kept awake.
Environmental factors such as food intake, light conditions and activity levels were kept the samen, with participants bed-restricted whilst awake.
Blood and tissue samples were collected after each morning to test for insulin sensitivity, a practise commonly done to detect type 2 diabetes.
The regulation and activity of clock genes was altered among the participants following the sleepless night. The researchers believe that this impact could explain why sleep is linked to certain diseases.
Dr. Jonathan Cedernaes, lead author and a sleep researcher at Uppsala University, explained: “[Our] current results indicate that changes of our clock genes may be linked to such negative effects caused by sleep loss.
“As far as we know, we are the first to directly show that epigenetic changes can occur after sleep loss in humans, but also in these important tissues.”
Cedernaes also acknowledged that they do not understand if these effects are long-lasting, and further research is required to assess if these changes are persistent.
Moreover, as the study involved 15 men, larger studies are required to fully understand the genetic impact of lost sleep.
“It could be that these changes are reset after one or several nights of good sleep. On the other hand, epigenetic marks are suggested to be able to function a sort of metabolic memory, and have been found to be altered in e.g. shift workers and people suffering from type 2 diabetes,” Cedernaes added.
The findings of this study were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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