Scientists have conducted specific studies of humans and animals and discovered that sleep plays a critical role in memory and learning, but also immune function and basic metabolism. It seems that sleep plays a role not only in how energetic we feel, but also the way in which we generate energy.
To prevent or limit excessive weight gain—another metabolic byproduct—a recent animal study provides new insights into the importance of circadian rhythms and their interaction with normal metabolism. Researchers studied two groups of mice with both these rhythms and the genes responsible in mind.
One group was genetically normal, while the other group lacked what is known as the Rev-Erb alpha gene, responsible for biological circadian rhythms. In the mice lacking the Rev-Erb alpha gene, research determined that they became obese and hyperglycemic. This was the case even if they ate the same quantity of food at the same time as normal mice.
Further investigation indicated that the major difference between the two groups was in the way Rev-Erb alpha-deficient mice metabolized the food they ate. The Rev-Erb alpha deficient mice metabolically created much more fat than the normal mice—this shift occurred specifically during the feeding period. Additionally, the Rev-Erb-alpha deficient mice were observed to rely less on carbohydrate stores for fuel when they were at rest. This suggests that when abiding by “normal” hours of sleep, the body is more inclined to indiscriminately burn calories rather than store them away.
“It is now clear that impairment of daily rhythms such as shift-work, exposure to artificial lighting, or jet-lag has multiple adverse effects on human health, every effort should be made to maintain or restore normal temporal organization and to avoid potentially disruptive behaviors such as nocturnal meals or light exposure at night”, said Etienne Challet, Ph.D., a contributing researcher.
From a personal point of view, it seems obvious that sleep is beneficial. We all know from experience that when going without sleep, consequences ensue, and that getting a good night’s sleep will often make us feel ready to take on the world. The benefits, apparently, extend well beyond that feeling—proper sleep yields demonstrable benefits for health and weight management.