Archer said the next step will be to investigate how a lack of sleep affects the body in the long term and to figure out whether some kinds of people are more vulnerable to sleep deprivation's negative effects on health.
For his part, Czeisler praised the study and said it raises the prospect of a blood test that will tell doctors if a patient's body is being affected because he or she isn't getting enough sleep. That's important because substances such as caffeine can hide the effects of lack of sleep so patients don't realize there's a problem, he said.
What about the possibility of a pill that mimics the effects of sleep so people don't have to bother getting some shut-eye in the first place? There's no evidence to support the idea of such a pill, Czeisler said, although there's ongoing research into how to improve the quality of sleep that people do manage to get.
For more about sleep disorders, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Simon Archer, reader in chronobiology, University of Surrey, United Kingdom; Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., chief, sleep medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and professor and director, sleep medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Feb. 25, 2013, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online
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