The Deep Connection Between Sleep Loss and Your Immune System

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A healthy immune system requires sleep and can be drastically affected by sleep loss, according to a September study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. Researchers sought out to better understand prolonged effects of sleep disruption, and found that inflammation, specifically, is worsened by chronic sleep loss. 

The study, which analyzed a small group of healthy adults with chronic sleep deprivation, found that their body had produced higher numbers of immune cells that cause inflammation, and even altered the immune cells’ DNA. Researchers determined that sleep has a protective factor for our immune systems, and conversely, the participants who were studied for six weeks of their mild chronic sleep deprivation showed cracks in their body’s defenses against disease.

Related: Why Sleeping While Sick is So Important

Researchers concluded “These data have important implications for inflammatory disease such as sepsis, CVD, and cancer, and may suggest that early life sleep behavior dictates future disease severity. Our findings support the hypothesis that periods of poor sleep, even if followed by sleep recovery, have sustained consequences on immunological health.” Their findings align with past research that shows you can’t undo sleep debts, or their implications for your body, but losing sleep then trying to “make it up” in the upcoming days or nights.

Mayo Clinic reports that you are in fact more likely to get sick if you are sleep deprived, and it can actually impact how quickly you recover, as infection-fighting mechanisms are reduced when you aren’t getting enough sleep. This is a vicious cycle for anyone staying up coughing during a cold in the middle of the night, of course.

It’s not just a slightly higher chance of infection risk, but a substantial one, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Restricting sleep to just four hours per night for 6 days, they explain, followed by 12 hours for a week, resulted in more than 50 percent decreased antibody production after a flu vaccine. This shows trying to make up for those late nights or early mornings just won’t cut it when it comes to your health and immunity — something we could all use a boost in as we head into flu season and continue to battle COVID-19.


Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice.  She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

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