In a world where much of our life is driven by speed, efficiency as well as the insatiable desire to get more done in a shorter amount of time, sleep is almost always compromised. It is as if we want to squeeze time, and with it squeeze our sleep. In an effort to get ahead in our careers, or get the next promotion or make the next sales call, we often stay up late and sacrifice that which most crucial to our health: sleep. But how much are we really sacrificing? A group of physicians in Hong Kong University probed this question by examining the link between sleep deprivation and DNA function, more specifically DNA repair and damage. Although sleep may seem like is a passive state, it is actually a state where many crucial processes occur, such as muscle repair, memory formation as well as hormone regulation. Sleep is a state where the body is able to repair and integrate processes on a cellular level, and DNA is the mechanism by which this is carried out on a cellular level. It is also known that impaired DNA replication plays a role in various types of diseases, such as cancer. Thus looking at the link between DNA and sleep is an important indication as to just how important getting adequate rest may be to our health.
The study, which was conducted over a four months period, followed 49 doctors who were split into two groups, a control group of 25 physicians which had roughly 8h to 7hrs of sleep per night, and 24 on call physicians who slept between 2-4hrs per on call shift. The blood samples were taken from the control group after three consecutive nights sleep and right after the on-call shift for the other group. The blood samples were analysed and found that in the on-call group DNA gene repair expression decreased while DNA breaks, or DNA damage, increased. Perhaps the most significant finding of the study, is that only one night of poor sleep lead to changes in the molecular level of DNA damage and repair, thus inhibiting full DNA function essential to our health. This study demonstrates that adequate sleep is essential to our physical health, its limitation is that it was done on a sub-set on the population, thus a larger more comprehensive study is necessary. However, this study establishes an important link between sleep and molecular level function of our bodies. Moreover, sleep is important not only for our physical health, but also for our creativity and learning. As I’ve written before, sleep could be to enhance learning and memory formation. Another study found that sleep and the immune system work hand in hand. Thus next time you are thinking on skipping on sleep in favour of getting more work done – think again!
Credit: Anna Powers for Forbes, 28 February 2019. Dr Powers is an entrepreneur, advisor and an award winning scientist. Her passion is sharing the beauty of science and encouraging women to enter STEM fields.