Sleep Deprivation Can Actually Damage Your DNA

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Bad news for all of you parents out there, as well as anyone who works at like, NORAD and has 24-hour missile watch. Oh and also doctors. And first responders.

Look, there are just too many of us who don’t get enough sleep at night, and a recent study published in Anaesthesia confirms that losing sleep is not only bad for you, but it can actually damage your DNA, leading to health problems down the road. It’s the first study to “quantify DNA damage directly in young adults who are required to work overnight shifts.”

The research team was out of Hong Kong and studied 49 healthy doctors. 24 of them worked overnight shifts between 5 and 6 times a month. The participants gave blood when they were rested and also after they pulled all-nighters, and gave other health information as well in order to rule out factors that could influence the study.

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What they found was that even when the doctors who regularly went without sleep were well-rested, their DNA had lower gene expression, more DNA breaks, and generally appeared more damaged than those doctors who never stayed up all night.

Why does it matter? Well, DNA damage has been linked to a host of health issues, like heart attacks, diabetes, and certain types of cancer – a meta-analysis of 2 million people found a link between working night shifts and the incidence of breast tumors.

Dr. Siu-Wai Choi of Hong Kong University and senior author of the study, said in a statement:

“Although this work is very preliminary, it is clear from the results that even a single night of sleep deprivation can trigger events that may contribute to the development of chronic disease.”

This is, of course, just one single study, and more research is needed to determine the significance of the relationship between the DNA damage and the sleep deprivation. The sample doctors who were often pulling overnighters tended to be younger than the other group and all of the participants were of Chinese descent. A much wider study would need to be conducted to confirm findings.

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“This study is important in that it will allow future researchers to study the impact of changing the way we work and other interventions by evaluation DNA breaks in the same way as the authors of this groundbreaking study have done.”

There are other factors that could come into play, like shift workers having a greater predisposition to suffering from chronic illness, changes to activity and eating patterns, and disruptions to circadian rhythms and sex hormone balances.

Even though the findings need to be confirmed, it seems safe to say that if you take care to do everything you can to stay healthy in the future, don’t skimp on the sleep – it’s as important as anything else you do with your body.