The pandemic affected the quality of people’s sleep: Nobel Prize in Medicine

Monterrey, NL- Extreme social isolation alters the quality and quantity of sleepaccording to the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2017, Michael W Youngwho has carried out experiments with fruit flies to observe how Cardiac rhtyms (or internal biological clocks) alter the metabolic processes of an individual.

Young mentioned a report from the American Psychological Association from March 2020 to 2021, showing that six out of 10 adults in the United States agreed that they slept more or less than desired since the pandemic beganin which isolation measures were imposed to avoid massive contagion. Similarly, they reported unwanted changes in their weight and increased alcohol consumption.

At the 52nd Research and Development Congress of the Tecnológico de Monterrey (CID), the winner spoke about the consequences of extreme isolation on flies and how these organisms can be a model for understanding human nature.

The conference had a hybrid format, during the 52nd edition of the CID. (Photo: Alejandro Salazar)

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Effects of pandemic stress

During the conferenceChronic Social Isolation Signals Starvation in the Drosophila Brain and Reduces Sleep”, Michael W Youngwho is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rockefeller University, commented that “the more experiments there are, the more convinced we are that there is a relationship between the sleep pattern and alterations in metabolic activity in isolation conditions”.

The American Psychological Association reported metabolic alterations in adult Americans from the start of the pandemic, in March 2020 to March 2021, as a result of isolation measures imposed by the government.

The Nobel Prize winner mentioned this study as an example of the metabolic disturbances that people may experience as a result of an external change (isolation) and secondary health effects.

The majority of respondents (61%) experienced unwanted changes in their weight, with 42% saying they gained more weight and 18% saying they lost weight. Similarly, 23% reported drinking more alcohol. These studies correlate with experiments on flies: those placed in extreme isolation slept much less and ate more..

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Flies and their behavior patterns

The fruit flies (Drosophila) have sleep cycles similar to humans and it is for this reason that they are used as a study model to understand the molecular mechanisms that control the circadian rhythm, an internal clock of our body that depends on the expression of our genes.

Michael Young Together with his research team, they studied the behavior of flies in conditions of extreme isolation, a contribution that sheds light on the behavior of humans in the pandemic.

At the beginning, in isolation they did not show great differences in periods of one or up to three days, but, from the fifth day to the seventh, there was a sharp decrease and sleep disturbance, “the longer the fly is isolated, the greater the impact”. Her sleep was reduced up to 40%.

While the flies that were in groups – from two flies to 100 – in containers where there was a social coexistence did not experience impacts.

Alterations to the fly environment

The research group wondered if these alterations would persist if the flies in extreme isolation were separated in the same tube in front of another group of 25 flies and observed if there was any type of chemical communication by seeing or smelling their neighbors.

“That seemed to make the isolated fly even more depressed about being totally alone. Not only did she suffer from being alone but she also felt social exclusion”, highlighted Young.

Alterations were tested on isolated flies only separated by a division with other species such as ants or ladybugs and the results were the same: isolation disturbed their sleep and depressed them.

Less sleep, more food consumption

The isolated flies increased their food consumptionthey ate more than twice as much as the flies that lived in groups with others, which can bring about a great metabolic change.

They observed that if the P2 neuron of flies in chronic isolation is silenced, it induces overconsumption of food.

It was also tested whether changes in temperature alter sleep patterns: “if we incubate a group of flies at 22ºC there is no difference in the response to sleep, if those same flies are exposed to 28ºC we see a dramatic drop in sleep” said the expert.

He added that “we register the same response in food consumption at 22 ºC but if we increase it to 28 ºC we see a dramatic reduction in consumption.” This behavior of the animals could be as a precaution to what could happen.

Michael W Young pointed out that we can use these experiments with organisms as a model to know which polymorphisms that impact sleep disorder in flies are present in humans.

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