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2013 March

Lack of sleep can alter gene

16th March 2013

Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on the genes.

Most people will struggle to sleep at some point in their adult lives, with many finding it a regular annoyance. As well as depriving you of the energy you need to get through the working week, a lack of sleep can also have health implications in the long run.

This is well known, but new research suggests that the damage could be done much earlier, with just a week of inadequate sleep enough to have a lasting impact on hundreds of genes in the body.

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Surrey, those who get less than six hours of sleep a night undergo changes relatively quickly to 700 genes responsible for controlling everything from inflammation and immunity to stress response.

Furthermore, sleep deficiency can significantly reduce the number of genes peaking and waning in terms of expression during the average day from 1,855 to 1,481. Normal gene expression patterns are crucial to overall health, so the new findings make for disturbing reading.

It is suggested that these gene alterations could be to blame for the links that have been observed between a lack of sleep and health conditions including obesity, heart disease and cognitive impairment.

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

According to Colin Smith, professor of functional genomics at Surrey University, breakthroughs in understanding of the links between sleep, circadian rhythms and health will impact on our ability to treat poor health that arises from a lack of sleep.

The important thing to remember is that there are many different factors that can affect your sleep patterns, including the amount of exercise you do and the diet you consume. Nutrients and vitamins also have an important role to play, with vitamin D deficiencies linked to chronic sleep problems.

If you're finding it difficult to get a good night's rest, research indicates that vitamin D supplements can drastically reduce daytime sleepiness, while vitamin B3 has been shown to increase REM sleep and B6 can help the body fall asleep.

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