Although the functions of sleep remain to be fully elucidated, it is clear that there are far-reaching effects of its disruption, whether by curtailment for a single night, by a few hours each night over a long period, or by disruption in sleep continuity. Epidemiological and experimental studies of these different forms of sleep disruption show deranged physiology from subcellular levels to complex affective behavior. In keeping with the multifaceted influence of sleep on health and well-being, we illustrate how the duration of sleep, its timing, and continuity can affect cellular ultrastructure, gene expression, metabolic and hormone regulation, mood, and vigilance. Recent brain imaging studies provide some clues on mechanisms underlying the most common cause of disrupted sleep (insomnia). These insights should ultimately result in adequate interventions to prevent and treat sleep disruption because of their high relevance to our most prevalent health problems.
Significance statement: Disruption of the duration, timing, and continuity of sleep affects cellular ultrastructure, gene expression, appetite regulation, hormone production, vigilance, and reward functions.
Keywords: cellular ultrastructure; gene expression; insomnia; metabolism; mood; sleep disruption.
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