Chronic Sleep Deprivation Suppresses The Immune System, Study Finds

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Feb 01, 2017 09:03 AM EST

Misael Carrasquillo, 2 months old, sleeps in a mosquito net covered baby stroller next to his identical twin brother Ismael during a visit for regular vaccinations at the Concilio de Salud Integral in Loiza, a primary care health clinic, on August 30, 2016 in Loiza, Puerto Rico. (Photo : Angel Valentin/Getty Images)

A recent study reveals why many people report being sick when they do not get enough sleep. The study authors collected blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins who had different sleep patterns and found that the twin that has shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system, when compared with his or her sibling.

"What we show is that the immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep. Seven or more hours of sleep is recommended for optimal health," lead author of the study and co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center, Dr. Nathaniel Watson said.

The researchers decided to make identical twin the participants of the study in order to control the large variety of humans' sleep duration genetic determinant. They acknowledged that while genetics account up to 55 percent of behavior and sleep duration, environment accounts for the remaining 45 percent, according to Science Daily.

Lots of existing data have revealed that depriving one's self of sleep for a limited time in a laboratory setting can lead to an increase in inflammatory markers and activate immune cells, even though little is known about the effects of longstanding short sleep duration under natural conditions, senior author, and director of UW Medicine's Computational Medicine Core at the Center for Lung Biology, Dr. Sina Gharib explained.

He added that the researchers used real world conditions, and showed for the first time that chronic short sleep shuts down the programs involved in the immune response of circulating white blood cells.

However, Watson noted that the findings are consistent with the findings of other studies which revealed that there is a lower antibody response when sleep-deprived people are given a vaccine and are more likely to get infected when exposed to a rhinovirus.

Hence, the study provides further evidence on the impact of sleep deprivation on overall health and wellbeing especially to immune health. Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the authors noted that people in the United States are sleeping up to two hours less than what is necessary over the past century and up to one-third of the working population sleeps less than six hours every night, according to Eurekalert.

They explained that the modern society, with its control of light, omnipresent technology and countless competing interests for the time, as well as the zeitgeist de-emphasizing sleep's importance, has lead to the widespread of sleep deprioritization.

The study was funded by NIH grants K23HL0833350, P30NR011400, ITHS Sleep Pilot Grant and University of Washington General Clinical Research Pilot Grant. The researchers published their findings lastJan. 25 in the journal Sleep.

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