Just one night's poor sleep can lead to epigenetic changes affecting the transcription of circadian clock genes, say researchers from Uppsala University.
As Uppsala's Christian Benedict and his colleagues report in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, they enrolled 15 men in a two-part study of the effect of sleep deprivation on circadian clock genes. In one part, the men got a good night's sleep while in the other, they stayed awake — an experience that was meant to mimic the effects of shift work. In the mornings, the researchers collected adipose tissue and skeletal muscle biopsies and tested the participants' fasting serum cortisol and plasma glucose levels.
The researchers found that even one night of wakefulness led to the hypermethylation of regulatory regions of key clock genes like BMAL1, CLOCK, CRY1, and PER1, an effect they noted was tissue-specific.
In animal models, sleep deprivation has been linked to metabolic disturbances, and the researchers report that the effects they saw were in metabolically active tissues.
"[O]ur current results indicate that changes of our clock genes may be linked to such negative effects caused by sleep loss," says lead author Jonathan Cedernaes, according to the Huffington Post.
He adds, though, that these changes could revert after a few nights of good sleep, but also "could mean that at least some types of sleep loss or extended wakefulness, as in shift work, could lead to changes in the genome of your tissues that can affect your metabolism for longer periods."