A new study, published in the journal Anaesthesia, found that sleep loss can induce genetic damage in different organs of your body, that can lead to health problems.
Anesthetists and other health care professionals often work night shifts and on-call duties. And their work patterns vary regularly between night and day work.
A research team from Hong Kong studied 49 healthy doctors, 24 of them had to work overnight on-site shifts. It means that they were required to work from the afternoon until the next morning roughly 5 to 6 times a month. The research was among the first to observe such effects on people, mainly on younger adults.
The study was conducted over a four‐month period. Blood samples were taken from the participants following 3 days of proper sleep and following night shifts, also called acute sleep deprivation, in the on-call group. They also assessed health info, sleep diaries, and the work patterns of volunteers.
Outcomes of the study
Generally, the research team found that at baseline, i.e. when they’d had adequate sleep, the on-call doctors had a lesser expression of DNA repair gene and more DNA breaks than their day-dwelling counterparts. Chiefly, their DNA was more damaged.
Expression of DNA repair gene was also decreased and DNA breakdowns increased straight. This happened after the doctors had operated through the night. Therefore, the results propose that sleep deprivation and frequent sleep cycle disturbance can cause DNA damage.
DNA damage has also been associated with other health issues, from diabetes and heart attacks to certain types of cancer. Chronic sleep deprivation can also contribute to respiratory disease.
The researchers noted a meta-analysis of 2 million contributors found an association between working night shifts and breast tumor incidence. Though studies on other cancers have given varied results.
According to the researchers, even though this work is very initial. Yet, it is obvious from the findings that even a single night of sleep loss can generate events. These events may lead to the development of chronic disease.
But, the team found many other factors. These factors could explain why shift workers have a greater tendency to suffer from these chronic illnesses. They range from fluctuations to activity and eating behaviors to disturbance to the body’s sex hormone balances and circadian rhythms.
Researchers of the study described that further research is required for the determination of the significance of DNA damage in the association between disease and sleep deprivation, as the sample size of the study was small.
Moreover, the researchers themselves mention that night shift participants were younger than the control group as junior doctors mostly work at nights, a difference that may have altered the outcomes. Also, all the participants were Chinese, so the results cannot be applied to the broader population.
This research is significant as it will allow future investigators to study the influence of changing the way we work and other interferences by assessing DNA breaks in the same way as the researchers of this innovative study has done.