New thesis shows how sleep deprivation can harm our health


“Our research shows how one sleepless night is enough to affect our metabolism and ability to assess other people's emotional state, which in turn can be of great importance during shift work,” states Lieve van Egmond, PhD Student with a focus on what sleep loss can do to our health.

Lieve van Egmond, PhD Student at the Faculty of Pharmacy
Lieve van Egmond, PhD Student at the Faculty of Pharmacy

“In my work, I meet so many people that want to talk about sleep, and the most common question is How can I improve my sleep? The short answer is: Fixed routines, and the earlier in life you create them, the better. Therefore, it is alarming to see how many young people seem completely unaware of how much worse we sleep when we, for example, bring our mobile phone with us to bed,” says Lieve van Egmond, PhD student at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.

Our need for sleep is - along with diet and exercise - taking an increasingly central position in research and talks about factors for a sustainable lifestyle. A contributing force to this rapidly increasing awareness is Christian Benedict's research environment at Uppsala University, which with numerous successful studies has attracted attention far beyond the academic framework. Currently, the group is preparing for a third thesis defense in a short time, and Lieve van Egmond's PhD project has already gained international impact.

Lieve van Egmond and Christian Benedict
Lieve van Egmond and Christian Benedict

“I have, among many things, studied how lack of sleep affects our metabolism. In one project, we compare physical values after a night with full and no sleep at all, and the results are remarkable. Already after one sleepless night, we see an increased concentration of the appetite-stimulating hormone adiponectin, which is in line with other studies that show how we after one hour of lost sleep increase our energy intake, while we, on the other hand, with an extra hour of sleep reduce our energy intake by the equivalent of 280 kilocalories. Of relevance is also that these effects are more evident among women and the obese,” notes Lieve van Egmond.

Another study that made many journalists work overtime shows how a sleepless night impairs our ability to assess other people's emotional state of mind. By measuring eye movements, the researchers were able to determine that lack of sleep made it more difficult for the participants to fixate faces with their gaze, as well as that they focused shorter time on the faces they were presented with. When also asked to rate each face, it resulted in the judgments "less believable and attractive". The results have sparked media discussion about how night shifts can affect, for example, police and healthcare actions, where first and correct impressions can be of major importance for central decisions.

“During my years as a PhD student, I have had a lot of opportunitites to communicate my research in the media. Initially, I could experience some nervousness, but over time I have found ways to relate to the journalists' questions. Today, I mainly see the central role of science in spreading knowledge about how important it is for everyone to get the sleep they need. And how we best reach out is something we often discuss: Maybe TikTok is the right channel for younger target groups? Perhaps doctors should ask routine questions about sleep habits when seeing patients? The clinical implementation is extremely important and something I would like to work with in the future.”


  • Christian Benedict's research group studies how disturbances in the circadian rhythm and sleep loss affect health and performance with a particular focus on the connection between sleep deprivation and metabolism.
  • Lieve van Egmond PhD student at the Departments of Pharmaceutical Biosciences and Surgical Sciences, works with a focus on how acute and chronic sleep loss affects psycho-metabolic health.



Lieve van Egmond, PhD StudentLieve van Egmond, PhD Student
Departments of Pharmaceutical Biosciences

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: private

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Last modified: 2022-11-08