Missing one night of sleep can have the same effects on a person’s immune system as experiencing physical stress, according to a study done in the Netherlands. The study, published in a journal aptly called Sleep, showed that men that were kept awake for 29 hours showed an increase in white blood cells called granulocytes and a disturbance in the rhythm of these blood cells. Fifteen men were placed on a strict eight hour sleep schedule to normalize their sleep cycles prior to the study and those sleeping habits were recorded.
They were not allowed to take medicine or ingest alcohol or caffeine and were required to exercise within 15 minutes of waking in the morning. The men were then kept awake for 29 hours and the effects of this loss of sleep were recorded and compared to the prior notes on the men’s sleep cycles.
“The granulocytes reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body’s stress response,” said Katrin Ackermann, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. “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.” Ackermann believes this data could affect how people approach factors in life that are associated with 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,” she continued.