Staying up late might be something you’re experiencing in wake of the coronavirus epidemic. While routines are paused and body clocks are trying to juggle life without commutes and other daily events, many people have experienced poor sleep due to anxiety and stress, either resulting in delayed sleep times or vivid nightmares. Whether this is a new trend or something that’s been part of your regimen for years, “night owls” – people who tend to stay up later – might want to reconsider their approach to shuteye.
Past studies linked night owls to a higher mortality rate than those who nod off earlier in the night. The study, done by Northwestern University and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, found that people who go to bed later had a 10% greater risk of dying compared to morning people who rise earlier in the morning.
But do the side effects of poor sleep stop there?
While poor sleep has been linked to obesity in past studies, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine say otherwise. The team recently found that poor sleep quality isn’t the leading factor in obesity, but excessive weight gain can cause poor sleeping patterns.
“We think that sleep is a function of the body trying to conserve energy in a setting where energetic levels are going down. Our findings suggest that if you were to fast for a day, we would predict you might get sleepy because your energetic stores would be depleted,” said study co-author David Raizen, an associate professor of neurology and a member of the Chronobiology and Sleep Institute at Penn, in a press release.
The study, published in PLOG Biology, was performed on microscopic worms, which Raizen said may not be the best way to “translate directly to humans”, but he believes studying worms offers a good model for studying mammalian slumber.
Like all other animals that have nervous systems, they need sleep. But unlike humans, who have complex neural circuitry and are difficult to study, a C. elegans has only 302 neurons — one of which scientists know for certain is a sleep regulator,” he said.
“To study the association between metabolism and sleep, the researchers genetically modified C. elegans to “turn off” a neuron that controls sleep. These worms could still eat, breathe, and reproduce, but they lost their ability to sleep. With this neuron turned off, the researchers saw a severe drop in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels, which is the body’s energy currency.”
Raizen said he hopes the study could help further research to understand sleep disorders.
“There is a common, over-arching sentiment in the sleep field that sleep is all about the brain, or the nerve cells, and our work suggests that this isn’t necessarily true,” he said. “There is some complex interaction between the brain and the rest of the body that connects to sleep regulation.”