Study could explain damaging effects of night shifts

The daily rhythms of many genes are disrupted when sleep times change, according to a new study which could help scientists understand the negative health impact associated with working irregular night shifts.

The daily rhythms of many genes are disrupted when sleep times change, according to a new study which could help scientists understand the negative health impact associated with working irregular night shifts.

The research, funded by a grant from the BBSRC and conducted in the University of Surrey’s Clinical Research Centre, saw 22 participants placed on a 28-hour day schedule, with their sleep-wake cycle delayed by four hours each day until sleep occurred during the middle of the day. Researchers then collected blood samples to measure the participants’ rhythms of gene expression.

Results revealed that during the disruption of sleep timing, there was a six-fold reduction in the number of genes that displayed a circadian rhythm – the clock that regulates the daily cycles of our bodies as we transition from day to night and wakefulness to sleep. This included many regulators associated with transcription and translation, indicating widespread disruption to many biological processes.

The study is published in the journal  PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, who led the research, said: “The results suggest that sleep-wake cycles affect molecular mechanisms which are at the core of the generation of circadian rhythms of gene transcription.

“This research may help us to understand the negative health outcomes associated with shift work, jet lag and other conditions in which temporal organisation is compromised.

“The results also imply that sleep-wake schedules can be used to influence bodily processes, which may be very relevant for conditions in which circadian rhythmicity is altered, such as in ageing.”

Dr Simon Archer, one of the leading authors of the research, added: “Over 97% of rhythmic genes became arrhythmic with mistimed sleep and this really underlines why we feel so bad during jet lag, or if we have to work irregular shifts.”





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