Those getting less than six hours of sleep a night may suffer disruption to genes that affect metabolism, the immune system, and the body’s ability to respond to stress, according to a study out of the University of Surry in England.

Researchers took blood samples from 26 subjects, 14 men and 12 women ages 23 to 31, after allowing them six hours in bed a night for one week and ten hours a night another week. Electroencephalography (EEG) sensors showed that subjects averaged 8.5 hours of sleep during the ten-hour week and 5 hours and 42 minutes of sleep during the six-hour week.

Blood tests on the subjects revealed that after the week of sleep deprivation, activity in 444 genes decreased, but increased in 267 genes during the week of healthy sleep.

“The surprise for us was that a relatively modest difference in sleep duration leads to these kinds of changes,” Surrey Sleep Research Centre director, Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, told the Guardian. “It’s an indication that sleep disruption or sleep restriction is doing more than just making you tired.”

Disruption to genes that control metabolism may cause conditions such as diabetes or obesity to worsen. Other affected genes include those that control the body’s inflammatory response and those linked to stress and aging.

The tests also showed that sleep deprivation can effect the body’s biological clock, causing continued and worsening sleep disruption. During ten-hour nights, 1,855 genes saw an increase in activity over a 24-hour cycle, while 400 genes stopped cycling entirely during nights of deprivation.

“There is a feedback between what you do to your sleep and how that affects your circadian clock, and that is going to be very important in future investigations,” said Professor Dijk.

In future studies, researchers hope to discover how long genes take to return to normal levels in sleep-deprived subjects, as they are not sure of any long-term health effects.

If you’re looking to get more sleep, HackCollege’s Robbie Williford has previously written on the subject, giving advice to help maximize your sleep cycle.

Source: The Guardian | Image: Amir Jina