August 5, 2014 6:37 pm

What you need to know about sleep deprivation

Watch above: Dr. Samir Gupta explains what you need to know about sleep deprivation. 

TORONTO – The former English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was known for working long days, sleeping very little and once said “sleep is for wimps.”

New research suggests some people with a genetic mutation might have more in common with the former prime minister than they might like.

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Scientists at the Centre for Applied Genomics in Philadelphia recently discovered that some people can get by with less than the recommended amount of sleep due to a genetic mutation to the so-called “clock gene.”

“They focused in on a set of genes called the clock genes that seem to regulate our sleep-wake cycles,” Global News medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta said. “On average, the people who have this [genetic mutation] seem to require one hour less of sleep than people who don’t have it.”

The scientists studied a group of 100 people and found those with the genetic mutation performed mental tasks better than those without after 38 hours without sleep, and needed roughly 90 minutes less than those without the variant to recover from the sleep deprivation.

But the study didn’t look at whether the genetic variant prevents the damaging effects of chronic sleep deprivation.

So does this mean you can get by with less than the recommended 8 hours? Not so fast. Gupta is quick to point out that there have been numerous studies detailing the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.

But he did note there’s no scientific evidence pointing to a blanket recommendation of how much sleep people should get.

Samir Gupta’s five facts about sleep deprivation:

1. There are acute effects

The acute effects of sleep deprivation are wide-ranging and can include increased response time, decreased attention span and problems with logical reasoning.

But a lack of sleep can also affect a person’s mood and judgement or lead to increased accidents at work and on the road.

In fact, data obtained by Global News showed a spike in pedestrian injuries in the week following the fall daylight saving time, when clocks are pushed back an hour.

2. There are chronic effects

A routine lack of sleep has been associated with a increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems including heart attacks.

Gupta suggests less hours spent sleeping can impair a person’s immune system and increase their susceptibility to the common cold.

There is also an association between chronic sleep deprivation and obesity, Gupta said.

3. It’s not just how many hours you’re asleep that’s important

The quality of your sleep is just as important as the amount of time.  Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences found a link between interrupted sleep and cognitive impairment.

“Even if you get eight hours, if you’re awoken four times in that eight-hour sleep period, your disruption in function the next day is as much as if you had only four hours of sleep,” Gupta said. “We want uninterrupted sleep.”

4. Turn off your cellphone

“We know light affects our day-night cycle, or our circadian rhythm, but particularly the short-wave or blue light from cellphones has a strong impact,” Gupta said.

The light emitted from a cellphone can suppress the production of melatonin, Gupta said, a hormone which regulates a person’s circadian rhythm.

5. Everybody’s different 

Each person will need a different amount of sleep – whether or not they have a genetic variant that will allow them to spend more time outside of the bedroom.

“I think people need to be practical about it,” Gupta said. “If you’re falling asleep when you don’t want to fall asleep, if you’re sleepy all day, if you’re not refreshed in the morning, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.”

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