Lack of sleep could be doing more than giving you dark circles under your eyes. Burning the midnight oil too often can also mess with how active your genes are, says a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While previous research has shown that insufficient sleep increases your risk of health problems like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental impairment, nothing explained how or why this damage was happening on the molecular level—until now.
For 26 participants in the study, one week of sleep deprivation—less than six hours of sleep a night—was enough to change the activity of over 700 different genes, which control bodily functions like the circadian rhythm (aka your internal clock), metabolism, inflammation and stress response. In fact, many genes whose activity normally fluctuates throughout the day stopped responding to night and day.
Lack of sleep is not isolated to a few late-night party-goers. Almost 30 percent of adults sleep less than 6 hours a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours. This chronic sleep deprivation could be setting the stage for more serious health problems later on.
If you’re concerned about what staying awake too long is doing under your skin, there’s still hope for you. From turning out the lights and muffling noise to cutting down on alcohol, you can reclaim much-needed rest. So put your genes back on track and kiss the dark circles goodbye.
For more help on how to get better rest, see: 6 Late-Night Habits Ruining Your Sleep.
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