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After a restless night people think they can make up for the lost sleep by going to bed early and sleeping in the next day. This certainly helps people feel rested, but a new study finds that just one night of sleep deprivation negatively impacts metabolism and cellular biological clocks.
“When [participants] had been sleep deprived and it was only one night … their glucose levels were at the level where you would say there is an increased risk of diabetes,” says Dr. Jonathan Cedernaes, a neuroscientist from Uppsala University in Sweden and an author of the paper in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Previous research indicates poor sleep increases people’s risk of being overweight or developing diabetes. Many thought metabolic changes occur after prolonged periods of sleep loss, but this study shows the body changes after just one night.
“We don’t know how long lasting these changes are,” Cedernaes says.
What’s more, one sleepless night throws the molecular clocks that regulate the cells out of whack. Much like the circadian clock controls the sleep/wake cycle for the entire body, clocks in the cells control their sleep/wake cycles.
“Everything going on in our body is regulated by our circadian rhythm even down to the cellular level. A disrupted night of sleep is altering the genetic foundation of the [body’s] time keepers,” says W. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia, who wasn’t involved in the study.
To understand how sleep loss impacts the body, Cedernaes asked 15 healthy men, with an average age of 22, to visit the lab on two different occasions. On the first, the researchers took tissue samples from their stomachs and thighs as well as blood and allowed the men to sleep as they would normally. These samples provided the baseline measurements. When the men returned, the researchers took the same samples. Instead of allowing the men to sleep, the researchers kept them awake in bed for an entire night.
And that’s all it takes for cellular and metabolic changes to occur.
“The most important thing was that there are some physical repercussions from missing a night of sleep … mental, physical. Something is changing that is not supposed to,” says Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and director of the Pediatric Sleep and Research Center at Saint Louis University and SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, who wasn’t involved in the study.
While the study shows one night of bad sleep can impact people in significant ways, the experts advise people not to panic after a bad night’s rest. The best thing to do to recover is to nap and go to bed early the next night. Eating protein might increase wakefulness, says Winter, but getting sleep works best.
This study adds to the growing body of evidence showing poor sleep presents risks to overall health.
“We are seeing these changes to the whole body after one night of sleep deprivation,” says Paruthi. “We know there are physical things that are changing in your body when you miss a night of sleep and that leads to long-term problems.”