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Sleep loss can confer increased risk of adverse weight gain

In a new study, researchers at Uppsala University now demonstrate that one night of sleep loss has a tissue-specific impact on the regulation of gene expression and metabolism in humans. This may explain how shift work and chronic sleep loss impairs our metabolism and adversely affects our body composition. The study is published in the scientific journal Science Advances. Epidemiological studies have shown that the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes is elevated in those who suffer from chronic sleep loss or who carry out shift work. Other studies have shown an association between disrupted sleep and adverse weight gain, in which fat accumulation is increased at the same time as the muscle mass is reduced - a combination that in and of itself has been associated with numerous adverse health consequences. Researchers from Uppsala and other groups have in earlier studies shown that metabolic functions that are regulated by e.g. skeletal muscle and adipose tissue are adversely affected by disrupted sleep and circadian rhythms. However, until now it has remained unknown whether sleep loss per se can cause molecular changes at the tissue level that can confer an increased risk of adverse weight gain. In the new study, the researchers studied 15 healthy normal-weight individuals who participated in two in-lab sessions in which activity and meal patterns were highly standardised. In randomised order, the participants slept a normal night of sleep (over eight hours) during one session, and were instead kept awake the entire night during the other session. The morning after each night-time intervention, small tissue samples (biopsies) were taken from the participants' subcutaneous fat and skeletal muscle. These two tissues often exhibit disrupted metabolism in conditions such as obesity and diabetes. At the same time in the morning, blood samples were also taken to enable a comparison across tissue compartments of a number of metabolites. These metabolites comprise sugar molecules, as well as different fatty and amino acids. The tissue samples were used for multiple molecular analyses, which first of all revealed that the sleep loss condition resulted in a tissue-specific change in DNA methylation, one form of mechanism that regulates gene expression. DNA methylation is a so-called epigenetic modification that is involved in regulating how the genes of each cell in the body are turned on or off, and is impacted by both hereditary as well as environmental factors, such as physical exercise.
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