How pulling just one all-nighter wreaks havoc on your blood

People who occasionally pull all-nighters are at greater risk for diabetes and other illnesses, and a new study identifies blood proteins as being behind the problem.

Blood cells can be confused by just a single all-nighter
Blood cells can be confused by just a single all-nighter (Geralt via Pixabay)

We recently reported on a study that concluded the main threat to the health of night owls was the blowback they get from “day larks." However, there's apparently a big difference between preferring to simply stay up late and pulling an all-nighter, especially on an irregular basis. A University of Colorado (CU Boulder) and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston study of 270,000 people published last February in Diabetes Care found that people who occasionally stay up all night are far more likely to contract Type 2 diabetes—the schedule is also implicated in a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Now, a new study from UC Boulder may have discovered at least part of the reason why: even a single all-nighter messes with your blood chemistry.


15 million Americans work night shifts either permanently or periodically. The CU Boulder/BWH researchers examined data from the UK Biobank pertaining to males from 38 to 71 and discovered that people who irregularly handled night shifts or who were on rotating schedules were 44% more likely to have Type 2 diabetes, with the odds going up with the number of nights worked. (Surprisingly, permanent night workers showed no such increase in the chances of getting diabetes—it seems that their bodies had over time adapted to their workday/night.)

This makes sense in light of the new CU boulder findings. Its authors enlisted six healthy males in their 20s who spent six days and nights in a setting where their meals, activity, sleep and, light were controlled. For the first two days, the experiment mimicked a normal schedule. The men were then moved to a reverse schedule of sleeping eight hours a day and being active eight hours a night.

Throughout the study, the researchers analyzed the levels and time-of-day-behaviors of 1,129 blood proteins. Study lead author Christopher Depner tells CU Boulder Today, “By the second day of the misalignment we were already starting to see proteins that normally peak during the day peaking at night and vice versa." They ultimately identified 129 proteins whose rhythms were being disrupted by the scheduling.

One of these was glucagon, which manages the release of sugar from the liver into the bloodstream. Glucagon usually hits its highest levels during the day, but for the subjects awake at night, that flipped—not only did the peaks occur at night, but even more concerning was that those peaks indicated abnormally high levels of the protein. This could be what's leading to the increase in diabetes.

The experiment also revealed that the night shifters burned 10% fewer calories during activity, perhaps due to the higher levels of fibroblast growth factor 19 observed—this protein is believed to influence the way in which energy is expended. With weight gain associated with Type 2 diabetes, this could also be a contributing factor.

(RapidEye/Getty Images)

Another interesting finding was that 30 blood proteins are creatures—if we can use that word—of habit, with most of them reaching their highest levels between 2 pm and 9 pm. This suggests that more accurate blood testing for these proteins could be achieved by considering their natural timing when drawing blood. An even more significant takeaway is, “If we know the proteins that the clock regulates, we can adjust the timing of treatments to be in line with those proteins," says Depner.

As for the people most identified as being at risk in these studies, when handed unavoidable irregular night work the best defense, says Celine Vetter of CU Boulder, is to eat right, exercise, and make sure to get plenty of sleep when you can. There's also at least one recent study that suggests you can make up lost ground by sleeping in on weekends.

Live on Thursday: Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Airspeeder's ‘flying car’ racers to be shielded by virtual force-fields

Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.

Credit: Airspeeder
Technology & Innovation
  • Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
  • The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
  • The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Keep reading Show less

A new minimoon is headed towards Earth, and it’s not natural

Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.

Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Paitoon Pornsuksomboon/Shutterstock/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • Small objects such as asteroids get trapped for a time in Earth orbit, becoming "minimoons."
  • Minimoons are typically asteroids, but this one is something else.
  • The new minimoon may be part of an old rocket from the 1960s.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Can we resurrect the dead? Researchers catalogue potential future methods

    From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.

    Credit: Pixabay
    Mind & Brain
    • Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
    • The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
    • Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
    Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast