Only halfway through its scheduled run, a European research and training
network’s study is already considered a success story, and the study’s
findings on sleep deprivation’s consequences for human health are as varied
as they are interesting.
The network of 16 Marie Curie Fellows from 12 countries are researching the
role of sleep in the quality of life; in mood disorders, and how it can
affect performance, accident rates, and cardiovascular diseases. This
EU-financed sleep research project, “The biomedical and sociological effects
of sleep restriction," is coordinated by Tarja Porkka-Heiskanen (Stenberg)
MD, PhD, at the University of Helsinki, Institute of Biomedicine. The other
partners are from UK (University of Surrey), Belgium (Université Libre de
Bruxelles), Germany (Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry & Center of Mental
Health, Klinikum Ingolstadt) and Switzerland (University of Zurich).
The team has uncovered the following information in their research:
The Helsinki group has investigated the effect of partial sleep loss on
human health using an experimental setup that resembles a normal working
week. The Helsinki group found that following sleep restriction to 4 hours
per night, an individual’s ability to perform complex tasks gradually
decreased during the five days. Several changes in their immunological
system were also recognized, e.g. increase in CRP (C-reactive protein), an
indicator of defense reaction.
A group at the University of Surrey, UK, found that Italian women who had
caregiver roles, especially for frail elderly relatives, frequently had
interrupted sleep.
The Chronobiology Group, also at University of Surrey, UK, observed a
reduced responsiveness to short wavelength light in older people, which may
have implications for the design of lighting in elderly homes.
The group in Munich and Ingolstadt has first evidence for an influence of a
chronic sleep disorder going along with severe sleepiness (narcolepsy) on
the processing of emotional stimuli in the brain, suggesting that disturbed
sleep regulation profoundly interferes with our well being and the
interaction with the environment.
Each of the fellows has written a description of their work, which is
available on the Web site ( of the project.