A new study out of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center has discovered a link between chronic sleep deprivation and the suppression of the immune system. While many people notice that they get sick when they haven’t slept enough, Dr. Nathaniel Watson of the Sleep Center and his team set out to determine why.
The study used identical twins in order to have a control group that accounted for the genetic components that influence sleep. Researchers have stated that between 31 to 55 percent of sleep duration comes down to genetics, so the use of identical twins allowed them to get more accurate results. While previous studies have found that reducing sleep for a short period in a laboratory setting can increase inflammatory markers and stimulate the immune system, Dr. Watson and his colleagues aimed to see how long-term periods of short sleep would affect the body in real world conditions.
The results found that chronic short sleep periods can shut down bodily systems associated with the immune response of circulating white blood cells. Dr. Watson explained the connection of their findings to previous research, stating “The results are consistent with studies that show when sleep deprived people are given a vaccine, there is a lower antibody response and if you expose sleep deprived people to a rhinovirus they are more likely to get the virus.” The suppression of the immune system caused by chronic sleep deprivation leads to the individual being more susceptible to illness and infection.