In a study that challenges the long-held notion that the primary function of sleep is to give rest to the brain, researchers have found that not getting enough shut-eye has a harmful impact on fat cells, reducing by 30 percent their ability to respond to insulin, a hormone that regulates energy.
Sleep deprivation has long been associated with impaired brain function, causing decreased alertness and reduced cognitive ability. The latest finding—published by University of Chicago Medicine researchers in the Oct. 16 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine—is the first description of a molecular mechanism directly connecting sleep loss to the disruption of energy regulation in humans, a process that can lead over time to weight gain, diabetes and other health problems. The study suggests that sleep’s role in energy metabolism is at least as important as it is in brain function.
“We found that fat cells need sleep to function properly,” said study author Matthew Brady, PhD, associate professor of medicine and vice-chair of the Committee on Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition at the University of Chicago.