Lack of sleep weakens your immune system, leading to colds, flu or other infection. Studies have shown that even moderate amounts of sleep deprivation reduce the levels of white blood cells and immune system effectiveness.
One study showed that if you deprive rats of sleep for only 8 hours and then challenge the body with a foreign substance, the antibody response is weak.
Mice deprived of sleep show decreased immunity to influenza virus infection in the lungs; they also show a reduced ability to reproduce interferon and other vital infection-fighting substances.
Recent studies in humans have also shown that loss of just a few hours of sleep can disrupt the normal pattern of the immune system response.
Natural killer cells in our immune system are particularly affected by lack of sleep. Studies have found that people who stay up until 3 am before falling asleep have a 30% reduction in the number of natural killer cells the next day and depressed activity in the natural killer cells still present.
This suppression of immune function could result in a greater susceptibility to viruses such as those that cause colds. Since these immune cells also protect the body against tumours, some researchers believe that chronic sleep deprivation may increase cancer risk.
Those who suffer from chronic insomnia (defined as sleep problem that lasts for 4 weeks or longer), or who deprive themselves of sleep on a regular basis are believed to be “more susceptible to viral, bacterial, or fungal challenges”, says James Krueger, Ph.D., a neurobiologist at Washington State University.
In another study from the Penn State University and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the US National Institutes of Health, sleep loss has been found to impair immune hormones in healthy men and women who sleep for 6 hours each night for a week.
The subjects experienced higher levels of immune hormones, which can be associated with an increased risk for diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension and osteoporosis.
A weak immune system also means that wounds and injuries take a longer time to heal.
On the other hand, sleeping more during times of infectious illness has been proven to aid speed recovery. That is why we become very sleepy when we develop a sickness or infection, and why it is not unusual for sleep length to double when a person is ill.
From CAP GUIDE on How Sleep Affects Your Body and Mind.
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