The Importance of Sleep on the Cellular Level

Kristin Osika

A good night’s sleep will make anyone feel refreshed and ready to face the day ahead. Now, for the first time, scientists might know why. A new study by the University of Manchester has shown that sleeping rejuvenates the body by building up cellular components critical for maintaining structure.

One such cellular component, the Extracellular Matrix (EM), surrounds our cells, holds them in place, and allows for cell-to-cell communication. It exists as connective tissues in our bones, skin, and cartilage, and it accounts for over half of our body weight. The EM is partially comprised of collagen, which helps it to expand by weaving long, thin fibrils together and creating new tissues. 

Originally, it was believed that only one type of these fibrils existed. Large fibrils, fully formed and permanent by the age of 17, were thought to maintain tissue structure throughout our entire life span. However, researchers have recently discovered a second, smaller type of fibril, which, although it suffers damage as our body endures wear and tear, can be replenished. These smaller fibrils safeguard the larger ones from damage, and are rejuvenated every night while we sleep. 

Professor Kadler, who worked on the study, commented, “It’s intuitive to think our matrix should be worn down by wear and tear, but it isn’t and now we know why: our body clock makes an element which is sacrificial and can be replenished, protecting the permanent parts of the matrix.”

In addition to making you feel rejuvenated, sleep builds up cellular components critical for our well-being. Next time you think about skimping on sleep, remember that your cells need that time to rebuild themselves!

Kristin Osika ‘22

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