A study conducted by researchers from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom found that lack of sleep and physical stress have the same effect on the immune system.
The study, which was reported in the journal Sleep, consisted of a comparison between the number of white blood cells in 15 healthy young adult males who were subjected to normal sleep patterns as well as sleep deprivation.
The study participants followed a strict routine of eight hours of sleep each day for one week, and were not allowed to consume alcohol and anything with caffeine, as well as take medications. They were also exposed to 15+ minutes of outdoor light within 15 minutes of waking up. The second part of the experiment, on the other hand, had study participants spend 29 hours without sleep.
Scientists from Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom determined that the greatest impact was on types of white blood cells called granulocytes, which lost their day-to-night time rhythmicity, as numbers increased.
Katrin Ackermann, lead author for the study, said: “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. 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.”
Previous studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and such health conditions as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Other studies also found evidence that adequate sleep helps ensure that the immune system is working properly, and identified long-term sleep loss as a major risk factor for problems with the immune system.