Lack of Sleep is Stressing Us Out, New Study Says
Stress in our life is not only caused by what we do and our busy schedules — stress is also caused by what we don’t do, namely, not get enough sleep.
A new joint study by researchers at the Department of Forensic Molecular Biology at the Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Centre for Chronobiology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and the University of Surrey Clinical Research Centre in England reveals that a severe lack of sleep creates a response in the immune system that is similar to the body’s immediate response when it experiences a stressful situation.
For the study, the researchers compared the white blood cell counts of 15 healthy young men under both normal and severely sleep-deprived conditions. In the first phase of the study, the men followed a strict schedule of eight hours of sleep per night every day for one week. They were also exposed to at least 15 minutes of outdoor light within the first 90 minutes of waking, and prohibited from using caffeine, alcohol or medication during the final three days of the first week.
The researchers required this in order to stabilize the participant’s circadian clocks and minimize sleep deprivation before the second phase of the study. The researchers then categorized and measured each participant’s white blood cells.
In the second phase of the study, the men stayed awake for 29 continual hours, and their white blood cells were again recorded and compared to the white blood cell numbers collected in the first phase of the study.
Results of the Study
According to the researchers, the effect of sleep loss on the white blood cells was immediate. The white blood cells known as granulocytes showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity—the circadian rhythm of the granulocytes slowed—and their numbers also increased, particularly at night. This reaction directly mirroring the body’s white blood cell response to stress.
Read the full study entitled, “Diurnal Rhythms in Blood Cell Populations and the Effect of Acute Sleep Deprivation in Healthy Young Men,” published in the July 2012 issue of the journal, Sleep.
The results of the study are in line with other previous research that shows a link between lack of sleep and a negative immune system response. In March of this year, the University of Rochester Medical Center published results that showed that the immune system of older adults who do not get enough sleep responds to stress with inflammation, increasing the risk for mental and physical health problems.
These studies and others like them reinforce the fact that more quality, restful sleep not only helps us feel better–it may also help us avoid myriad poor mental and physical health conditions.
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