[Impact of sleep debt on physiological rhythms]

Rev Neurol (Paris). 2003 Nov;159(11 Suppl):6S11-20.
[Article in French]


Sleep loss due to voluntary bedtime curtailment has become a hallmark of modern society. Even though sleep deprivation in rodents has been shown to result in death, it was until a few years ago thought that sleep loss results in increased sleepiness and decreased cognitive performance but has little or no adverse effects on human health. We measured sleep and 24-hour hormonal profiles in 11 healthy young males after 6 days of sleep restriction (4-hour bedtime) and after 6 days of sleep recovery (12-hour bedtime). At the end of sleep restriction, we observed reduced amounts of slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and an alteration in the temporal distribution of these sleep stages, i.e. an increased pressure for REM sleep at the beginning of the sleep period and a decrease in the amount of slow wave activity (SWA) during the first sleep cycle. These later abnormalities are usually observed in depression. In addition, numerous alterations in the 24-hour hormonal profiles were observed in the state of sleep debt. The amount of melatonin secreted was reduced because of a delay in the onset of the nocturnal secretion and a reduction in the value of the acrophase. If the overall 24-hour cortisol profile was preserved, sleep restriction was associated with increased cortisol levels in late afternoon and evening hours and the duration of the quiescent period was reduced. The 24-hour mean TSH levels were reduced and the nocturnal TSH elevation was markedly dampened, most likely as a result of elevated levels of thyroid hormones. The acrophase of the 24-hour leptin profile occurred earlier, the amplitude of the rhythm and the overall mean levels were reduced. The nocturnal elevation of prolactin levels was abrupt but of short duration and the 24-hour mean levels were decreased. A pulse of growth hormone occurred prior to sleep onset, therefore affecting SWA distribution at the beginning of the sleep period. Since these alterations are qualitatively and quantitatively similar to those observed during aging and sometimes during depression, a state of sleep debt, as is experienced by a substantial fragment of the population in modern societies, is likely to increase the severity of depression and widespread age-related chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Convalescence
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Periodicity*
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Prolactin / metabolism
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Thyrotropin / metabolism


  • Leptin
  • Prolactin
  • Thyrotropin
  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone