Nearly all species need to sleep for survival although the amount needed by a given animal varies from species to species. Practically everyone loves sleep, yet busy lives or illness commonly deprive us of this much needed recharge. Journals are filled with studies reporting the negative effects on cognition as well as links to obesity and other metabolic diseases.
Despite universal recognition of sleep’s importance to life, we still don’t understand it completely. Ongoing studies aim to uncover these mechanisms. A recent study published in July issue of PLoS ONE by Nova Southeastern University in Florida looked at connections between our bodies’ metabolism and sleep deprivation. They found significant changes in anti-oxidants which caused imbalances in oxidative defense. Basically, skipping sleep appears to lower antioxidants and may speed up aging.
Glutathione, our body’s primary intra-cellular antioxidant, was lowered after a night of sleep deprivation. Less glutathione means less defense against oxidative stress damaging our cellular materials. This may be why markers of DNA oxidative damage were found in the study. This might lead to faster aging of our cells or increased cancer risk.
Other markers of stress were also found to be altered including ATP. ATP is the product of our mitochondrial, the power generators of our cells. Lower ATP levels would appear to indicate a slow down in such power production.
This study only examined effects in 19 adults and requires further validation in larger studies, yet does hint at underlying mechanisms in which sleep benefits us metabolically. It reminds me to encourage my patients to make sleep a priority.