Ah, sleep, Nature’s soft nurse (to steal from Shakespeare). The gift we don’t appreciate as children, and then yearn for as adults. Few of us actually get “enough” sleep, yet we all trade off sleep for other activities. But did you know that too little sleep can actually hurt your body?
We have all experienced the consequences of lack of sleep: inattention, poor judgment, irritability and much more. The actual medical toll on our bodies caused by lack of sleep has not been well understood, until now. New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at the physical damage caused by sleep deprivation. The results are frightening.
Doctors on the faculty of the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom studied 26 volunteers as they suffered from too little sleep. Specifically, the research looked at changes to the genes in the blood which control the body’s manufacturing of the building blocks that we need to survive.
The research started off with each volunteer sleeping for up to 10 hours a night for a week. This was pretty soft duty! Then it got real. They spent the next week getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Their blood was genetically mapped, comparing the genes before and after the sleep deprivation.
More than 700 genetic differences were measured. These changes were associated with stress reactions, circadian rhythms, metabolism control, tissue inflammation and immune responses. This helps to explain observed relationships between lack of sleep and poor health, including heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and cognitive disorders.
What can you do with this new knowledge? Certainly, this research should be considered when planning your day. Do you want to see that movie that starts at 10:30pm, or would you like to avoid the flu? Would you rather get up at 5:00am to complete that assignment or plan your work better and skip the diet next month? Our daily decisions have consequences, and this new research drives home just how important it is to get enough sleep.
Does this mean that buying a new pillow might be a medical expense?