Chronic Sleep Deprivation Suppresses The Immune System

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The benefits of sleep are more than feeling rested and looking fresh-faced: not getting enough can seriously increase your chance of getting sick.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Medicine Sleep Center explored how much of an effect sleep deprivation has on our immune systems by studying 11 pairs of identical twins. Twins were used in the study, published in Sleep journal, as 31 – 55% of sleep duration is based on genetics, while the rest is related to environment and behavior.

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

Wanting to mirror real-life sleep situations, participants were not brought into a clinical sleep lab for testing but instead monitored in their real life sleep setting. The goal was to examine the effects of long-term short sleep duration. Blood samples were drawn and in all sets of twins, and those who had more sleep had stronger immune systems. Those who slept less had depressed immune systems. The deprivation of rest shut down the immune response of circulating white blood cells.

“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,” Watson said. “This study provides further evidence of sleep to overall health and well-being particularly to immune health.”

Around 60 million Americans suffer from poor sleep and insomnia each year, increasing their likelihood of acquiring illnesses than those who get a full seven hours a night. This rise in insomnia has even been dubbed a public health crisis by the CDC.

Chinese Herbal medicine has treated this effectively since around 220AD when the first formula to address the causes of restless sleep was made. Since then patterns of physiologic dysfunction which disrupt sleep have been identified and herbal/nutritional therapies developed to ensure proper rest. Indeed, sleep is considered a necessary pillar in the Chinese model of thriving health.

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