Here’s Why You Get Sick When You Don’t Sleep Enough


Sleep disorders have emerged as a health problem. So are the effects of reduced sleep with health problems stemming from it.

A new study has revealed that sleep deprivation is harmful to the immune system while explaining why people fall ill when denied rest, underscoring the importance of sleep to overall health and well-being. The research kept its focus on immune response to sleep deprivation.

Conducted by experts at the UW Medicine Sleep Center, the study monitored the sleep patterns of identical twins numbering 11 and conducted an analysis of their blood samples.

The results showed that the twin who was sleeping less suffered from a weaker response from the immune system compared with the sibling who had sound sleep. The study has been noted as a pioneering effort in probing the consequences of lack of sleep and how white blood cells essential for the maintenance of immunity are upset by it.

"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," said lead author Nathaniel Watson who is the co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center.

In the study, twins were used as subjects because of the fact that genetics accounted for close to 55 percent of all sleep problems, with environment being responsible for the remainder.

The findings were published in the journal Sleep.

Impact On Immune Response

Sina Gharib, director of UW Medicine's Computational Medicine Core and the study's senior author explained that evidence from current data shows slashed sleep increases the risk of inflammatory markers and activation of immune cells.

The study also pointed to the harm from acute short sleep in hampering functions related to disease -resistance especially in the circulation of white blood cells.

Watson said the research is in sync with earlier studies that showed sleep deprived people displayed a lower antibody response to vaccines and sleep-starved people were infected faster by rhinovirus.

The research cited official data that said in the past century, Americans were losing their average sleeping time by two hours. The reduced sleep of working people was also mentioned with the sleeping time falling to fewer than six hours per night.

Ingredients Of Good Sleep

Meanwhile, defining the best sleep people should get each night, a paper published in Sleep Health prescribed four criteria.

  • Half an hour or less time to fall asleep
  • Waking up no more than once at night
  • Even after waking up in the middle of the night, catching sleep within 20 minutes
  • Being asleep at least 85 percent of the time spent in bed.

These are largely applicable to long overnight sleep yet good nap-related variables as elements of "good sleep quality".

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