Anyone who has travelled across time zones knows how unpleasant it is when the regular rhythm of your biological clock is disrupted. Jetlag results when the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm is out of sync with external cues for “day and “night”, resulting in insomnia, extreme tiredness, difficulty concentrating and various other unpleasant symptoms.
On the bright side, jetlag is at least a temporary misery that is usually over after a few days of acclimation to the new time zone. Long-term disruption of the natural sleep/wake cycle, such as encountered by frequent long-distance travellers, shift workers, or people with physiological conditions that affect circadian rhythms, can be much more debilitating. Longer term health effects that have been associated with constant disruption of circadian rhythms include, insomnia, concentration problems, and increased susceptibility to diseases associated with chronic inflammation such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Despite the fact that many of the genes and proteins involved in central control of circadian rhythms are known, the reason for the implied association between circadian clock components and immune function is not understood. Recently, a paper was published in the July issue of PNAS that identified a potential link between a circadian clock component and chronic inflammation. Continue reading
Back at the beginning of the year, a great many of us resolved that we would lose some weight in 2010. Some of us vowed we would get up early, sacrificing an hour or two of sleep to squeeze in an hour or so of exercise before the rest of our busy schedule hijacked our day. What we didn’t realize was that we may have sabotaged our efforts to lose what we wanted to get rid of –fat– by giving up something our body wanted –sleep.
Nap time: If I learned nothing else in my college career, I learned the unequaled value of the nap. Many times I returned from class, dropped my book bag by my desk and promised I would study as soon as I had a “quick nap”. For a sleep-deprived student, the value of a nap trumped all else (admittedly, some of my college friends might argue that a nap doesn’t trump EVERYTHING, but they aren’t writing this blog). And indeed, after a refreshing twenty minutes of sleep, I could tackle my books with renewed enthusiasm. My roommate had a different approach. She would often fall asleep while studying stretched out on her bed. I used to tell her she must learn by osmosis. Continue reading
Authors of a recent Nature article about the effects of sleep deprivation (1), wrote “Millions of people regularly obtain insufficient sleep”. I suspect that the majority of these people are either students or new parents. Regardless of whether you fall into these two categories, I think everyone has struggled with the adverse effects of sleep deprivation, such as cognitive impairment and memory problems, at some point. Now, this Nature article provides us with a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that cause these effects and, perhaps more importantly, hope that these effects can be reversed.