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BBC study: Oh, what a difference an hour of sleep makes

snooze buttonWith two Nobel winners this week, our Stanford office is positively humming with excitement, activity and pride. There's really only one thing that's in short supply around here these days: Sleep. Okay, sleep and coffee. But, mostly sleep.

That's why I feel compelled to write about this BBC study on the effects of one hour of sleep.

Now, you may have read that last sentence and thought to yourself, of course an extra hour of sleep is beneficial - it's an extra hour of sleep! But does one hour of sleep have a measurable effect on how we feel and perform during the day? Or can I safely shave 60 minutes off my slumber in exchange for an extra cup of coffee and a few more layers of skillfully applied makeup?

To find out, Michael Mosley, MD, of the BBC contacted the University of Surrey Sleep Research Centre. Earlier this year, the centre published a study on the effects of sufficient versus insufficient sleep. But that research compared extreme, not one-hour, differences in sleep schedules. So, Mosley and the center's researchers recruited seven volunteers to participate in a new, two-week sleep study that compared the effects of six-and-a-half versus seven-and-a-half hours of sleep.

Their findings are reported in the BBC story:

Computer tests revealed that most of them struggled with mental agility tasks when they had less sleep, but the most interesting results came from the blood tests that were run.

Dr Simon Archer and his team at Surrey University were particularly interested in looking at the genes that were switched on or off in our volunteers by changes in the amount that we had made them sleep.

"We found that overall there were around 500 genes that were affected," Archer explained.


When the volunteers cut back from seven-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours' sleep a night, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active. The team also saw increases in the activity of genes associated with diabetes and risk of cancer. The reverse happened when the volunteers added an hour of sleep.

In short, it seems there's no cosmetic that can "make up" for an hour of lost sleep. As troubling as it is to think that there's something my coffee cannot cure, it's nice to know that an extra hour of sleep isn't purely an indulgence.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: Study shows lack of sleep during adolescence may have “lasting consequences” on the brainStanford expert: Students shouldn’t sacrifice sleepStudy shows rotating night shift work may raise risk of Type 2 diabetesTips for fighting fatigue after a sleepless nightWhat are the consequences of sleep deprivation? and Exploring the effect of sleep loss on health
Photo by Jellaluna
Via The Guardian

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