Sleep During the Day May Throw Genes Into Disarray

Study might explain why health problems are more common among night workers

From the WebMD Archives

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Sleeping during the day -- a necessity for jet-lagged travelers and those who work overnight shifts -- disrupts the rhythms of about one-third of your genes, a new study suggests.

What's more, shifted sleep appears to disrupt gene activity even more than not getting enough sleep, according to the research.

For the new study, which was published in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, British researchers put 22 healthy, young volunteers in a dimly lit sleep lab for three days.

During the first day, they disrupted the participants' sleep at regular intervals to reset their body clock to its innate rhythm. On the second and third days, the volunteers ate and slept on a 28-hour schedule, so their longest period of sleep was from noon until about 6:30 p.m.

The researchers drew blood samples all three days so they could watch what happened to the timing of gene activity.

During the first day, when the body reset its circadian rhythm, nearly 1,400 genes -- about 6.4 percent of all genes that were analyzed -- were in sync with that rhythm. On the days of shifted sleep, however, the number of genes tied to the body's clock dropped dramatically, to 228 genes, or only 1 percent of genes analyzed.

The researchers estimated that the sleep disruptions would ultimately impact about a third of a person's genes.

That's an even greater disruption than scientists saw in a previous study when they tested the effects of sleep deprivation on gene activity. In that study, which had study volunteers sleeping about five and half hours each night, the number of genes that were in sync with the body's clock dropped from about 9 percent to 7 percent.

"These are quite fundamental processes that are being affected," said senior study author Derk-Jan Dijk, a professor of sleep and physiology at the University of Surrey, in the United Kingdom.

"We think that may be related to the negative health outcomes associated with long-term shift work," Dijk said. Shift workers are at higher risk for many health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, disrupted menstrual cycles and cancer, he said.

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