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How Shorter Sleep Affects The Immune System, A Biological Look

Update Date: Oct 24, 2013 06:16 PM EDT
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Not getting enough sleep may impact the inflammatory responses in your body according to a new study.

Researchers have now analyzed which genes are more likely to be harmed by sleep deprivation. In combination, they also identified if those genes were active in the immune system.

For the study, researchers had a group of healthy young men sleep for only four hours and another group of healthy men for eight hours per night for one week. Blood tests were taken before and after the study.

"We compared the gene expression before and after the sleep deprivation period, and focused on the genes whose behaviour was most strongly altered," researcher Vilma Aho, said in a news release. "The expression of many genes and gene pathways related to the functions of the immune system was increased during the sleep deprivation."

Researchers also found that inflammation increased. "On the gene level, this was apparent in the higher-than-normal expression of the TLR4 gene after sleep loss," reported the University of Helsinki researchers. "CRP level was also elevated, indicating inflammation."

For a follow-up study, researchers had patients answer a health survey and did blood tests on them. Researchers wanted to investigate the effect shorter sleep had on the immune system.

For the health survey patients were asked to express if they believed they were or were not sleeping enough.

Researchers found that those who said they felt they were not getting enough sleep had the same gene change as the first study.

Researchers believe that this study could help explain how developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes can be associated with shorter sleepers.

"These results corroborate the idea that sleep does not only impact brain function, but also interacts with our immune system and metabolism," said Aho. "Sleep loss causes changes to the system that regulates our immune defence.

In addition he said, "Some of these changes appear to be long-term, and may contribute to the development of diseases that have been linked to sleep deprivation in epidemiological research."

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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