Sleep Loss Alters Metabolism Of Cholesterol


Lack of sleep has previously been found to impact the activation of the immune system, inflammation, carbohydrate metabolism and the hormones that regulate appetite. Now University of Helsinki researchers have found that sleep loss also influences cholesterol metabolism.

The study examined the impact of cumulative sleep deprivation on cholesterol metabolism in terms of both gene expression and blood lipoprotein levels. With state-of-the-art methods, a small blood sample can simultaneously yield information about the activation of all genes as well as the amounts of hundreds of different metabolites.

This means it is possible to seek new regulating factors and metabolic pathways which participate in a particular function of the body. Explains Vilma Aho, researcher from the Sleep Team Helsinki research group:

“In this case, we examined what changes sleep loss caused to the functions of the body and which of these changes could be partially responsible for the elevated risk for illness.”

The study established that the genes which participate in the regulation of cholesterol transport are less active in persons suffering from sleep loss than with those getting sufficient sleep. This was found both in the laboratory-induced sleep loss experiment and on the population level.

Cardiovascular Disease In The Sleep-deprived

While analysing the different metabolites, the researchers found that in the population-level data, persons suffering from sleep loss had fewer high-density HDL lipoproteins, commonly known as the good cholesterol transport proteins, than persons who slept sufficiently.

Together with other risk factors, these results help explain the higher risk of cardiovascular disease observed in sleep-deprived people and help understand the mechanisms through which lack of sleep increases this risk.

“It is particularly interesting that these factors contributing to the onset of atherosclerosis, that is to say, inflammatory reactions and changes to cholesterol metabolism, were found both in the experimental study and in the epidemiological data,”

Aho says.

The results highlight the health impact of good sleep. The researchers emphasise that health education should focus on the significance of good, sufficient sleep in preventing common diseases, in addition to healthy food and exercise. Even a small reduction in illnesses, or even postponing the onset of an illness, would result in significant cost savings for society at large.

“The experimental study proved that just one week of insufficient sleep begins to change the body’s immune response and metabolism. Our next goal is to determine how minor the sleep deficiency can be while still causing such changes,” Aho states.


Cardiovascular diseases are known to be linked to both metabolism and the immune system. Sleep loss has been demonstrated to cause low-grade inflammatory state in the body, and this may contribute to the higher risk of disease. Carbohydrate metabolism has also been found to alter in sleep deficiency in ways that resemble type 2 diabetes.

However, the impact of sleep loss on lipid and cholesterol metabolism has been studied very little.

This study employed three data sets:

Experimental SR study (N=21): An experiment conducted in cooperation with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, simulating a work week with restricted sleep.

DILGOM (Dietary, Lifestyle and Genetic determinants of Obesity and Metabolic syndrome, N=518): A subset of the national FINRISK population study, collected to serve research into the risk factors for the metabolic syndrome.

Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study (YFS, N=2,221): A Finnish population study which followed the lifestyles and heart health of participants from childhood/youth. Researchers used data from 2007, when participants were between the ages of 30 and 45.

Vilma Aho, Hanna M. Ollila, Erkki Kronholm, Isabel Bondia-Pons, Pasi Soininen, Antti J. Kangas, Mika Hilvo, Ilkka Seppälä, Johannes Kettunen, Mervi Oikonen, Emma Raitoharju, Tuulia Hyötyläinen, Mika Kähönen, Jorma S.A. Viikari, Mikko Härmä, Mikael Sallinen, Vesa M. Olkkonen, Harri Alenius, Matti Jauhiainen, Tiina Paunio, Terho Lehtimäki, Veikko Salomaa, Matej Orešič, Olli T. Raitakari, Mika Ala-Korpela, Tarja Porkka-Heiskanen
Prolonged sleep restriction induces changes in pathways involved in cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory responses
Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 24828 DOI: 10.1038/srep24828

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Last Updated on December 29, 2022