Is a good night's sleep crucial for your health?

October 22, 2007

In spring 2005 a large European research and training network was established to investigate the causes and implications of poor sleep from a medical as well as from a social point of view. This EU-financed sleep research project, “The biomedical and sociological effects of sleep restriction”, is coordinated by Dr. Tarja Porkka-Heiskanen (Stenberg) MD, PhD, at the University of Helsinki, Institute of Biomedicine.

The topic of the project is important and timely: our environment is changing to a 24/7 society, which inevitably means that time spent in sleep decreases. What are the consequences of this reduction for human health and well-being? This is the central question of the present consortium.

The training network consists of 16 young Marie Curie Fellows from 12 countries, who are trained in the six consortium laboratories by experienced mentors. They are researching the role of sleep in the quality of life; in mood disorders, and how it can affect performance, accident rates, and cardiovascular diseases. Animal models complement the project aiming to understand the basic mechanisms underlying sleep regulation and thereby provide recommendations for the development of new hypnotics.

Although the work is only half way through, interesting results have already emerged, and the project has now been nominated as one of the “success stories” among EU-funded projects.

The Helsinki group has investigated the effect of partial sleep loss on human health using an experimental setup that resembles a normal working week. They found that following sleep restriction to 4 hours per night, an individual’s ability to perform complex tasks gradually decreased during the five days. Several changes in their immunological system were also recognized, e.g. increase in CRP (C-reactive protein), an indicator of defense reaction.

The Sociology of Sleep Group at the University of Surrey has shown the diverse ways in which the social context of everyday life has profound influences on sleep quality. Indepth interviews with women in Italy show how women’s sleep is severely disrupted by care-giving roles, especially for frail elderly relatives. Analysis of large-scale surveys has found strong social inequalities in sleep problems with poorer sleep recorded for people living in more disadvantaged social circumstances, such as with low income and low educational attainment. The Chronobiology Group at the University of Surrey has been investigating the effect of blue short wavelength light on circadian rhythms and sleep in the young and elderly. A reduced responsiveness to short wavelength light has been observed in older people and this may have implications for the design of lighting in elderly homes.

The group in Munich and Ingolstadt has first evidence for an influence of a chronic sleep disorder going along with severe sleepiness (narcolepsy) on the processing of emotional stimuli in the brain, suggesting that disturbed sleep regulation profoundly interferes with our well being and the interaction with the environment.

Basic research in the human sleep research laboratory of the University of Zürich revealed clear age-related changes in the impairment of sustained vigilant attention after one night without sleep. This finding is consistent with epidemiological studies and has important implications for the prevention of accidents associated with the loss of sleep.

The group from the University of Zurich, dedicated to animal research, recorded sleep in different mouse models under normal conditions and under enhanced sleep pressure attained by sleep deprivation of a few hours. The effect of pharmacological stimulation of different types of GABAA receptors was investigated. This research aims at opening new avenues for the development of hypnotics. The hypnotic efficacy, when based on normal sleep physiology, should be optimized and lead to less adverse effects.

The mentors recognize the pressing need to bring the results of this research network available to all people. Training of the Fellows includes, in addition to the scientific training, also training in communication with the general public. The Fellows are encouraged to write articles and give general presentations – each of them has written a description of their work.

The other partners are from UK (University of Surrey), Belgium (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Germany (Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry & Center of Mental Health, Klinikum Ingolstadt) and Switzerland (University of Zurich).

Source: University of Helsinki

Explore further: One in three older adults take something to help them sleep but many don't talk to their doctors

Related Stories

One in three older adults take something to help them sleep but many don't talk to their doctors

September 27, 2017
Sleep doesn't come easily for nearly half of older Americans, and more than a third have resorted to some sort of medication to help them doze off at night, according to new results from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Tibetan yoga practice may improve sleep quality for breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy

September 20, 2017
Participating in twice-weekly practice of Tibetan yoga may reduce sleep disturbances and improve sleep quality in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, according to a study from researchers at The University of Texas ...

Does colour really affect our mind and body? A professor of colour science explains

September 26, 2017
Red makes the heart beat faster. You will frequently find this and other claims made for the effects of different colours on the human mind and body. But is there any scientific evidence and data to support such claims? The ...

Researcher's new book empowers parents to deal with media messaging

October 10, 2017
When it comes to children, a parent's natural instinct when spotting something harmful to the child is to eliminate access to that danger. That could range from something like a dangerous animal coming too close to the child ...

After shooting, Las Vegas seeks healing

October 7, 2017
Far from the Las Vegas Strip and its flashy hotels, a small healing park opened Friday in the north of Las Vegas, as communities shaken by Sunday's horrific mass shooting join together to grieve.

Exercise can make cells healthier, promoting longer life, study finds

September 22, 2017
Whether it's running, walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, it's been well-known since ancient times that doing some form of aerobic exercise is essential to good health and well-being. You can lose weight, sleep better, ...

Recommended for you

Expert: Be concerned about how apps collect, share health data

October 20, 2017
As of 2016 there were more than 165,000 health and wellness apps available though the Apple App Store alone. According to Rice University medical media expert Kirsten Ostherr, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates ...

Three million Americans carry loaded handguns daily, study finds

October 19, 2017
An estimated 3 million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and 9 million do so on a monthly basis, new research indicates. The vast majority cited protection as their ...

More teens than ever aren't getting enough sleep

October 19, 2017
If you're a young person who can't seem to get enough sleep, you're not alone: A new study led by San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge finds that adolescents today are sleeping fewer hours per night ...

Across Asia, liver cancer is linked to herbal remedies: study

October 18, 2017
Researchers have uncovered widespread evidence of a link between traditional Chinese herbal remedies and liver cancer across Asia, a study said Wednesday.

Eating better throughout adult years improves physical fitness in old age, suggests study

October 18, 2017
People who have a healthier diet throughout their adult lives are more likely to be stronger and fitter in older age than those who don't, according to a new study led by the University of Southampton.

Global calcium consumption appears low, especially in Asia

October 18, 2017
Daily calcium intake among adults appears to vary quite widely around the world in distinct regional patterns, according to a new systematic review of research data ahead of World Osteoporosis Day on Friday, Oct. 20.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.