How Lack of Sleep Affects Cholesterol

In previous studies, it has been found that sleep deprivation can negatively affect the immune system, metabolism, inflammatory process, and regulation of the hormone that controls appetite.  In a recent study out of the University of Helsinki, scientists have discovered that lack of sleep can also lead to problems with cholesterol metabolism.

The purpose of the study was to review the impact of sleep deprivation on cholesterol metabolism in both lipoprotein levels and gene expression.  With a tiny blood sample, scientists can find out about all gene activations and the different metabolites.  It is now possible to search for and find metabolic pathways and regulatory factors that partake in different bodily functions.

Vilma Aho, a researcher on the Sleep Team Helsinki group, states that they examined the changes lack of sleep caused on the body’s functions and what changes could lead to an increased risk for illness.

It was found that the genes responsible for cholesterol transportation are not as active in someone who has suffered with sleep deprivation as they would be in someone getting good, quality sleep.  This finding was noted on both a laboratory sleep loss experiment, as well as at the population level.

The different metabolites that were reviewed showed researchers that at the population level, people with sleep deprivation had lower HDL (high-density lipoproteins).  This is considered the good cholesterol level.  This finding was not present in those who got sufficient sleep.  Adding this to other risk factors of poor sleep, these findings add to the understanding of the higher cardiovascular disease risks that are seen in those with sleep deprivation.  The study has helped researchers further comprehend the mechanisms that cause the increased health risks in sleep-deprived persons.

It is of interesting note, Aho states, that the sleep deprivation components that are contributing to the development of atherosclerosis (changes to cholesterol metabolism) are found in both the laboratory experimental study and the epidemiological data.

Once again, we have a study that indicates the impact sleep has on our health.  The researchers of this study emphasize that education should focus heavily on the need for good sleep in order to prevent long-term health consequences.  This is in addition to a healthy diet and exercise regimen.  It is notable that even a small reduction in the number and severity of illnesses would result in extreme healthcare cost savings, which would impact the economic status of the society as a whole.

Just one week of poor sleep can lead to changes in the body’s immunity and metabolism.  The next goal of these researchers is to find out how small the sleep deficiency would need to be to cause such changes in the body.

 Background of the study:

This research out of the University of Helsinki is focused on studying the impact lack of sleep has on the body’s immunity and metabolism, especially with regards to cholesterol and lipid metabolism.  Hundreds of previous studies have shown the higher health risks in those who do not get sufficient sleep, but the Sleep Team Helisinki is looking to determine the mechanisms behind the risks on cholesterol metabolism in order to guide better education and understanding.

Heart diseases are linked to both the immune system and the body’s metabolism.  Lack of sleep has been found to cause an inflammatory reaction, and this may be contributing to the higher risk of developing a chronic illness.  Additionally, carbohydrate metabolism is thought to be affected by sleep deficiency in a way that resembles type 2 diabetes.

The impact that sleep has on cholesterol and lipid levels has been studied less frequently, which is why the researchers here are focusing their efforts on those mechanisms.



Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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