Staying up late to binge-watch the newest series release might cause more problems than a groggy workday. According to a small study from the University of Helsinki, inadequate sleep may also affect how the body metabolizes cholesterol.
The study’s researchers wanted to learn about the physiological effects of sleep deprivation and if and how they relate to cardiometabolic diseases. For part of the intervention—which focused on the short term—they recruited 21 people, of whom 14 were required to restrict sleep time to 4 hours per night for 5 days. The other seven individuals acted as a control group. The researchers also looked at data from larger, longer-term, population-based studies. Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, they were able to look for any effects of sleep deprivation on a genetic level.
“The assessment of circulating lipid profiles using NMR spectroscopy goes beyond the typically measured total lipids, like total cholesterol and triglycerides, and allows detailed characterization of many lipoprotein features at the subclass level, including the size of the particles, which are important in lipid physiology and pathophysiology,” explained the researchers.
According to the data, published in Scientific Reports (2016; doi:10.1038/srep24828), the genes that participate in cholesterol regulation were less active in sleep-deprived people than in those who got enough sleep. This was the case in both the short-term and long-term interventions. Also, sleep-deprived participants in the larger population studies had lower HDL cholesterol levels than their well-rested counterparts. The researchers suggested that these characteristics could offer insight into the genesis of the cardiovascular diseases often found in people who are not well-rested.
“It is particularly interesting that these factors contributing to the onset of atherosclerosis, that is to say, inflammatory reactions and changes to cholesterol metabolism, were found both in the experimental study and in the epidemiological data,” said researcher and PhD student Vilma Aho.
It’s important to realize that it doesn’t take much time for the body to suffer the negative impacts of inadequate sleep, Aho added. “The experimental study proved that just one week of insufficient sleep begins to change the body’s immune response and metabolism. Our next goal is to determine how minor the sleep deficiency can be while still causing such changes.”