Study findings could have implications for jobs that require rotating shift work, researchers say.
Severe sleep deprivation has the same effect on the immune system as physical stress, according to a new study.
Researchers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom found sleep loss triggers the production of white blood cells, known as granulocytes, particularly at night.
“The granulocytes reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body’s stress response,” explained the study’s lead author, Katrin Ackermann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Eramus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands, in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
In conducting the study, the researchers tracked the white blood cell count of 15 healthy young men who followed a strict schedule of eight hours of sleep every day for a week, then compared that with their white blood cell counts during 29 hours of sleep deprivation.
The investigators found that the white blood cells showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity and also increased during the sleep deprivation.
The research was published in the July issue of the journal Sleep.
Previous studies have shown sleep deprivation is linked to the development of diseases, including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Prior research has also suggested that chronic sleep loss is a risk factor for impairment of the immune system.
Looking ahead, the study authors concluded that future research should examine exactly how sleep loss contributes to the development of certain diseases.
“Future research will reveal the molecular mechanisms behind this immediate stress response and elucidate its role in the development of diseases associated with chronic sleep loss,” said Ackermann in the news release. “If confirmed with more data, this will have implications for clinical practice and for professions associated with long-term sleep loss, such as rotating shift work.”
By Mary Elizabeth Dallas