All-Nighters Alter Gene Expression


You pull an occasional all-nighter for work or Civ V every now and again—what’s the harm?


You’re damaging genes that control your biological clock, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.


Fifteen healthy men visited the lab twice for two night stays. On the second night of one of the stays, the men were allowed to sleep normally, and on the second night of the other stay, the men had to stay awake all night. Researchers minimized environmental factors by controlling light conditions, food intake, activity levels, and by randomizing the order of the regular night / sleepless night.

After the second night (on both occasions), the men gave blood samples, along with tissue samples from their belly fat and thigh muscle.


Molecular analysis of the tissue samples showed that the regulation of the gene that controls the internal clock was altered. The activity of genes is regulated by something called epigenetics, which involves chemical alterations to the DNA molecule and regulates how genes are switched on and off. Researchers found more alteration in the clock genes after a sleepless night.

According to researchers, “As far as we know, we are the first to directly show that epigenetic changes can occur after sleep loss in humans, but also in these important tissues. It was interesting that the methylation of these genes could be altered so quickly, and that it could occur for these metabolically important clock genes.”

The Takeaway

Don’t pull all-nighters. At this point, more research is need to see whether or not these epigenetic changes last, but previous research has linked sleep loss to negative metabolic effects, along with obesity and type two diabetes. So get some sleep.


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