General discussion


The data presented in this thesis indicate that chronic partial sleep loss, as it often occurs in modern human society, desensitizes the brain’s serotonergic receptor system and alters stress reactivity. The most important finding of the present work is that all these physiological changes develop gradually over time and may be persistent for days even with undisturbed sleep. Since similar changes in serotonergic receptor sensitivity have been found in depressed subjects, our data suggests that restricted sleep may change the brain in a direction that might increase the vulnerability of the individual for psychopathologies such as depression. The gradual and persistent nature of the changes may have far-reaching implications given the general sleep hygiene of human societies. In light of this, one commonly exercised habit, oversleeping in the weekends, might possibly be not enough to catch up on the physiological effects of sleep loss gathered during the week.

Taken together, the present thesis points at the fact that sleep loss, which is generally viewed by human society as not harmful, may have serious consequences on the well-being of the individual. These serious physiological consequences include the aforementioned increased risk for psychopathologies but also an increased risk for other diseases such as hypertension, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders. In conclusion, awareness about these adverse effects should increase in the modern world and sleep should be recognized as an important and indispensable item in our life.




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