Today’s young people, in the fast-paced urban life, often come home at 8 or 9 p.m., their own time is poor. And their compensation is to stay up late, trying to sacrifice sleep, give themselves more time to entertain. So we are very familiar with “lack of sleep”: headaches, tiredness, inability to concentrate, are the consequences of lack of sleep. But this is only the effect of short-term sleep deprivation. Long-term sleep deprivation can have serious consequences – which can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, and even sudden death.
Don’t want to sleep at night, don’t want to get up during the day, is the normal life of many people (Photo: Pixabay)
Although we all know that sleep is so important, one of the ultimate questions about sleep remains unanswered: Why do animals die without sleeping?
Today, the leading academic journal, Cell, published a heavyweight study from Harvard Medical School that answered the unsolved mystery.
To study how sleep affects animals, scientists first used fruit flies as a model. They found that severe lack of sleep can also lead to sudden death of fruit flies. Under normal conditions, fruit flies can live for about 40 days. Once they are deprived of sleep, they can only live for about 20 days.
Interestingly, these fruit flies accumulate large amounts of ROS (reactive oxygen) molecules in the intestines a few days before they are “trapped.” In contrast, there is no such abnormality in the brain. Subsequent studies have found that the intestines are the main place where these Ros are produced.
Ros accumulates in the intestines of sleepless animals (Photo: Vaccaro et al, 2020)
This is not just a phenomenon in fruit flies. The researchers also found that in mice, the intestines also accumulate ros in the body when they lack sleep. This suggests that mammals have the same mechanism.
“We used an impartial approach to look inside the body for signs of damage caused by sleep deprivation. We were surprised to find that the intestines played an important role in the deaths caused by (lack of sleep). Professor Dragana Rogulja, who led the study, said.
What is the causal relationship between the elevated level of ROS in the intestines and the “sleepiness” caused by lack of sleep? To answer this question, the researchers found a range of antioxidants that neutralise ROS activity. They found that putting these antioxidants in food could allow sleep-deprived fruit flies to live to near-normal levels!
Antioxidants allow sleepless fruit flies to live almost as long as regular fruit flies (Photo: Supplied)
In an official press release from Harvard Medical School, they noted that melatonin, lipoic acid, and NAD are particularly effective in removing intestinal ROS. It is worth noting, however, that if the fruit flies themselves do not lack sleep, these supplements have no additional long-life effect.
To test the results, the researchers also genetically modified the fruit fly’s gut to express a large amount of antioxidant enzymes. Similarly, even without sleep, these fruit flies do not “get stuck” prematurely.
Taken together, the researchers point out that ROS accumulation in the gut plays an important role in sudden death caused by lack of awareness.
Illustration of this study (Image Source: Resources)
Of course, we still have some questions to answer. For example, we do not know why lack of sleep causes ROS to accumulate in the intestines, nor do we know why accumulation of ROS is fatal. But at least, we have a new understanding of the molecular mechanism of sleep deficit.
We’re too sleep-deprived. But even if we know it’s not good to stay up late, we’ll stay up late. Perhaps in the near future, researchers could develop a new drug to relieve the symptoms of lack of sleep. For many who are struggling to go to bed or swipe their phones for a while, this must be a boon.