How Does the Immune System Respond to Sleep Deprivation?

by Allison Tsai Editor

Sleep deprivation does more than just make you tired, according to a recent study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it jolts the immune system with the same response during exposure to stress.

What is the study?

Researchers from the Netherlands and UK looked at the white blood cells of 15 healthy young men after getting adequate sleep, and then after being severely sleep deprived.

How did researchers conduct the first part of the study?

Participants were on a strict sleep schedule of 8 hours per night for a week, and were exposed to 15 minutes of outdoor light within the first 90 minutes of waking up. They were also prohibited from using caffeine, alcohol or medication the last three days of that week. This schedule was used to regulate the circadian clock and minimuze sleep deprivation. Blood samples were collected during this week.

What did they do for the second part of the study?

For the second half of the study, participants endured a period of 29 hours of wakefulness. Blood samples were also collected during this time.

What did they find?

They found that white blood cells known as granulocytes showed the greatest changes, including disruption of processes regulated by the circadian clock and increased numbers at night. These cells immediately and directly mirrored the body's physical stress response.

What does this mean?

Sleep deprivation and physical stress induce the same immune response, which can lead to other diseases associated with chronic sleep loss. This means sleep could be a vital part of treatment, and professions that demand shift-work could be contributing to chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Allison Tsai
Meet Our Writer
Allison Tsai

Allison wrote for HealthCentral as an editor and producer for Allergy, Asthma, Cold & Flu, COPD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Skin Care, Skin Cancer, and Sleep Disorders.