Sleep Loss Can Cause Death through Accumulation of Reactive Oxygen Species in the Gut

Cell. 2020 Jun 11;181(6):1307-1328.e15. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.049. Epub 2020 Jun 4.


The view that sleep is essential for survival is supported by the ubiquity of this behavior, the apparent existence of sleep-like states in the earliest animals, and the fact that severe sleep loss can be lethal. The cause of this lethality is unknown. Here we show, using flies and mice, that sleep deprivation leads to accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and consequent oxidative stress, specifically in the gut. ROS are not just correlates of sleep deprivation but drivers of death: their neutralization prevents oxidative stress and allows flies to have a normal lifespan with little to no sleep. The rescue can be achieved with oral antioxidant compounds or with gut-targeted transgenic expression of antioxidant enzymes. We conclude that death upon severe sleep restriction can be caused by oxidative stress, that the gut is central in this process, and that survival without sleep is possible when ROS accumulation is prevented. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Keywords: antioxidants; free radicals; gut; oxidative stress; reactive oxygen species; sleep; sleep deprivation; survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Drosophila
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species