(Natural News) Your body needs to get enough sleep every day, so it can recharge. However, if you regularly pull all-nighters or work the night shift, you may be at risk of various health problems. In a recent study by a team from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder, they found that a person’s sleeping time plays a crucial role in how poor-sleep-related problems develop. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Circadian misalignment and poor-sleep-related health conditions
In the study, researchers found that staying awake at night and sleeping in the following morning — even for just one 24-hour period — can trigger changes in over 100 proteins in your blood, especially those that affect blood sugar, immune function, and metabolism.
Dr. Christopher Depner, the study’s lead author, warned that these biochemical changes in blood protein levels can gradually increase your risk for health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and weight gain. Dr. Depner, who is also a postdoctoral fellow in the department of integrative physiology at CU Boulder, explained that earlier studies have determined that night-shift work is a risk factor for weight gain and other metabolic disorders.
To verify how circadian misalignment (e.g., eating at night and sleeping during the day) can cause health problems, the researchers studied how reversing the sleep-wake cycle affects protein levels in human blood. (Related: Losing sleep increases the likelihood of obesity, study finds.)
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The team observed six healthy male participants in their 20s. The volunteers had regular sleep schedules, meaning the men slept an average of eight hours at night. The six participants spent six days in a research center at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH). During the six-day study period, the researchers strictly regulated the participants’ activity, exposure to light, meals, and sleep.
Two days after the volunteers followed a traditional sleeping and eating schedule where they slept at night and ate meals during the day, the men were then transitioned to a simulated night-shift sleeping and eating schedule. For the altered-schedule days, the volunteers stayed up all night and they were allowed to sleep for eight hours during the day. The men also ate their meals at night.
Poor sleep also affects bodily functions
The researchers took blood samples from the participants every four hours. Testing revealed that out of the 1,129 proteins being studied, at least 10 percent (129 proteins) were altered by the simulated night shift. Proteins frequently found in elevated levels during the day were peaking at night, and vice versa.
Depner shared that the researchers were surprised by both the magnitude and amount of these biochemical changes. One such protein was glucagon, a crucial hormone that makes the liver secrete blood glucose and helps regulate blood sugar levels. During the simulated night-shift phase of the study, the participants’ glucagon levels increased at night instead of during the day and peaked at levels that were higher than in the daytime. He noted that this could be a major risk factor for diabetes. If a person has too much glucagon, he can develop a rare tumor of the pancreas called a glucagonoma that can secrete excessive quantities of glucagon. A glucagonoma may cause diabetes mellitus, deep vein thrombosis, weight loss, and a characteristic skin rash.
The researchers also identified 30 proteins that fluctuated depending on the time of day, regardless of when the participants slept or ate.
Even though the study was small, it was the first to determine how protein levels in the blood are affected by when you eat and sleep. Depner also said that the study findings helped reveal what happens to those protein levels in real time when your normal patterns are altered. The results highlight the crucial role of your body’s circadian clock when it comes to your health.
Depner and his team will continue studying how circadian misalignment can cause health problems, especially since the study only observed six men who were young and healthy. Future studies will involve larger groups of people that also include women.
If you frequently pull all-nighters to study or if you work regular night shifts, remember that being a night person may affect your overall well-being. Consult a healthcare professional to form a plan that can help you stay healthy if your job or other factors you to shift your sleep schedule.
On the other hand, if your job or lifestyle allows you to maintain a regular sleep schedule, the study’s findings revealed that continuing to do so offers various benefits for your health and wellness.