Lack of sleep could damage DNA

Lack of sleep could damage DNA

An adult aged between 18 and 60 should ideally sleep for at least seven hours every night. People are aware of health problems caused by lack of sleep such as poor concentration, slower reaction times and increased susceptibility to disease. However, a recent study by the University of Hong Kong, published in the journal Anaesthesia, shows that damage caused by lack of sleep may be more severe than previously thought.

The research studied 49 healthy doctors who worked full time. 24 of these doctors worked overnight and were required to take five to six such over-night on-site calls (working from late afternoon to early morning the next day) per month. The remaining 25 doctors in the study were on a regular shift. Blood samples were collected after three days of adequate sleep and also after overnight on-site work which resulted in sleep deprivation. The results showed on-call doctors who were required to work overnight had 30 per cent higher DNA breaks, a type of DNA damage, compared with those who worked regular hours. DNA damage was further increased by more than 25 per cent after only one night of sleep deprivation.

The preliminary study found that sleep deprivation resulted in a higher level of DNA damage and lower levels of gene activity associated with DNA repair. DNA damage means changes in structure of the genetic material that affects cell growth and functioning. Though why lack of sleep could lead to DNA damage remains unclear, it may help explain the increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases associated with sleep deprivation. Further research is required to ascertain if DNA damage can be reduced by the use of antioxidants or promotion of recovery sleep after acute sleep deprivation.

Source: Anaesthesia, 2023

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