New research published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine suggests that chronically getting insufficient sleep negatively impacts immune cells, which can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease and inflammatory disorders.
The researchers used both human and mouse models to study the impact of insufficient sleep on immune cells. In the human study, fourteen healthy adults who regularly got eight hours of sleep per night were monitored for six weeks. Then, the participants were asked to decrease the amount of sleep they got by 90 minutes per night for another six weeks. All of the participants in the study showed changes to their immune cells after restricting their sleep times. They had a greater number of immune cells, and the DNA structure of their immune cells was altered.
In the mouse study, mice were either allowed to sleep normally or were subjected to sleep fragmentation (being awakened throughout the night) for 16 weeks. After sleep fragmentation, the mice were given a ten-week period of uninterrupted sleep recovery. The results of the mouse study were consistent with the human study, with sleep-deprived mice producing a greater number of immune cells and showing changes to the structure of their cells. Interestingly, even after the 10-week sleep recovery phase, the mice who experienced sleep fragmentation continued to produce extra immune cells and showed changes to their cell structures.
The authors noted that their results suggest that even long periods of sleep recovery can’t reverse the negative impacts of poor-quality sleep. The immune effects observed in this study may lead to increased rates of cardiovascular disease and immune disorders in people who consistently get insufficient sleep. To prevent inflammatory disorders and other diseases, adults should aim to consistently get seven to eight hours of sleep per night.