Journalists at the BBC were interested in finding quantifiable differences in the health between those who got more versus less sleep, asking seven volunteers to be studied at a sleep research center for two weeks. The participants were randomly assigned to two groups: One group got six-and-a-half hours of sleep for one week, while the second group got seven-and-a-half hours of sleep for one week. For the second week, the groups switched.
Researchers ran a battery of tests (both cognitive and blood tests) on the volunteer sleepers. And, what a difference an hour makes: Scientists found that approximately 500 genes were affected by sleep, and that many of them controlled extremely important functions.
When sleep was reduced, genes controlling inflammation, immune response, and response to stress became more active. There were also increases in the activity of genes associated with diabetes and cancer. And, when participants slept more? The activity of those genes went down.
While this study is far from a large-scale, highly-controlled trial, the lesson here is pretty clear. Our bodies need rest and sleep. And, when we're not getting those zzzs, it affects us in big ways. (BBC)