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Lack of sleep alters human gene activity

Lack of sleep alters human gene activity - 27 February 2013. JupiterImages

New research from the University of Surrey has found that as little as one week of inadequate sleep is enough to alter the activity of hundreds of human genes.

The BBSRC-funded research monitored the activity of all genes of the human genome and found that inadequate sleep (less than six hours a night) affects the activity of over 700 of our genes. These included genes which are linked to controlling inflammation, immunity, and the response to stress.

Furthermore, the research shows that inadequate sleep reduced the number of genes that normally peak and wane in expression throughout the 24-hour day from 1,855 to 1,481. The authors found that the number of genes affected by sleep deprivation was seven times higher after a week of insufficient sleep.

Sleep deficiency leads to a host of significant health conditions including obesity, heart disease, and cognitive impairment, but until now scientists were unclear how gene expression patterns were altered by insufficient sleep. These 'gene expression' patterns provide important clues on the potential molecular mechanisms linking sleep and overall health.

Derk-Jan Dijk, Director of the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, which receives funding from BBSRC, 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."

The research was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers consisting of physiologists, sleep and circadian rhythm experts and experts in functional genomics and bioinformatics.

Colin Smith, Professor of functional genomics at the University of Surrey says: "The current interest in sleep and circadian rhythms as determinants of health and disease is a vital area of research. By combining our expertise in sleep and 'genomics' (the study of the full complement of our genes), we are starting to make breakthroughs that will have an impact on our understanding and treatment of poor health arising from insufficient sleep."