Why not getting enough sleep is worse than you think…

sleep deprivation

Sleep serves both physical and psychological functions. We all need sleep. Sadly, in our culture, work and social pressures don’t always allow us to get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that most Americans suffer from sleep deprivation. While many joke about it, Swedish researchers say it is no laughing matter.

The bad news about sleep deprivation


You may have heard that if you suffer from sleep deprivation, it can slow down your metabolism. Stress hormone levels in the blood increase, the immune response is affected, the body’s ability to handle glucose decreases, and appetite control suffers. The bottom line is, disturbed sleep leads to changes in metabolism that you really can’t control. What you likely haven’t heard is that sleep deprivation can alter what is known as our “clock genes.”

Swedish researchers say they’ve discovered that just one night of sleep loss can alter the clock genes in our tissues. Clock genes are genes that play a central role in the rhythm of our body.

During a small study, the researchers took 15 healthy men to a special lab for two nights. They had them sleep eight hours one night and kept them awake for the other night. All the environmental factors, such as lighting, activities and food consumption were the same for the two nights. Each morning when the men got up, the researchers collected both blood and tissue samples. After examining the tissue samples they could see that the regulation and activity of clock genes altered after one night of sleep loss. They also realized that the expression of the genes changed. This means the process by which information encoded in a gene is used.

While the results of their study were surprising, the researchers say that they are not clear as to whether the changes in genes have long-lasting effects. They wonder if it could be possible for the changes to reset after one or several good nights of sleep. They also are asking the opposite – could this mean extended wakefulness leads to changes in the genes that can impact metabolism for longer periods?

Clearly more investigation is needed, but it is worth pointing out that in 2013, a different group of researchers at the University of Surrey in England reported that one week of sleep deprivation could change more than 700 genes in our body.

How to reset your internal clock

Whether you have the occasional sleepless night or suffer from sleep deprivation on a regular basis, sleep medicine specialists suggest the following to help reset your internal clock:

9 ways to reset your internal clock

  • Cut out naps: Even if you feel tired, napping can interrupt going to sleep at night so don’t do it.
  • Adjust your bedtime: Try slowly scaling back your bedtime until you are at a desired hour.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon: It will keep you in lighter stages of sleep at night so stick with decaf from 2 p.m. onward.
  • Exercise: It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, it is just important that you exercise since it does have a positive impact on sleep.
  • Do not sleep in: When you get up at the same time every day it helps you to maintain a well-functioning sleep schedule.
  • Be strict about your schedule: Once you have set a sleep schedule stick with it.
  • Avoid night light: Studies show exposure to evening light shifts your body clock to a later schedule.
  • Watch what you eat: Consume only healthy snacks if you are running close to bedtime. Heavy, rich meals will keep you awake.
  • Set the mood: having a relaxing bath or playing soothing music can help.

There are other ways you can reset your internal clock, such as using light therapy and taking melatonin; however, these should be discussed with your doctor first. It is also important to seek medical advice if your sleep schedule is interfering with your job and relationships.

Some of the leading researchers on sleep deprivation say society has become “supremely arrogant” in ignoring the importance of sleep. Specialists from Surrey, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Manchester Universities remind us that we need sleep as much as we need to eat and breathe.

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