While it's easy enough to brush off a few sleepless nights with a pot of coffee and the occasional desk nap, you may be doing more harm than you realise. According to a new study from Surrey University, snagging less than six hours of sleep per night can actually shut down genes that play a key role in the body's process of self-repair.
We rely on our genes to constantly produce the proteins needed to reverse the wear on our bodies' tissue that we incur throughout the day. But when scientists divided 26 volunteers into two groups — one of which slept for less than 6 hours per night for an entire week and the other for 10 hours per night — some of the sleep-deprived group's genes actually stopped working.
The function of 711 genes in total were altered in some way, specifically ones involved in metabolism, inflammation, immunity and stress. There is some good news though: a week of normal sleep was enough to restore the malfunctioning genes back to peak condition, but should the unhealthy sleep patterns continue, health problems that aren't quite so easily reversible, like obesity and heart disease, have a high chance of cropping up. And this study only scratches the surface, according to Professor Colin Smith, one of the scientists involved in the study:
This is only a week of sleep restriction and it is only five and a half or six hours a night. Many people have that amount of sleep for weeks, months and maybe even years so we have no idea how much worse it might be.
So at the very least, don't feel so guilty hitting that snooze button — you could be saving your life. [Telegraph]