Blood samples taken after just one week of getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night showed changes to more than 700 genes due to sleep deprivation alone, according to the study. Researchers don't entirely understand the role of each of these genes and what the changes may mean, Bloomberg reported, but at least some affect our inflammatory, immune and stress responses, researchers noted.
This may at least in part help to explain the serious health consequences that have been linked to short sleep, like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Considering that about 30 percent of Americans report getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night, according to the CDC, these genetic changes could be widespread. The CDC recommends that adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
"Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur," Colin Smith, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Surrey, told the BBC. "If we can't actually replenish and replace new cells, then that's going to lead to degenerative diseases."
The findings add to a body of research examining factors that can influence genes. Most recently, a study conducted by University of Cambridge showed that stress's effects on genes might actually be passed down from generation to generation, the New Scientist reported.