When people don't get enough sleep each night, they tend to get sick more easily. But while doctors recommend adequate sleep for better health – usually about seven or eight hours per night – studies are still being done to identify the exact reason why lack of sleep leads to illness.
Recently, researchers at the University of Washington took a closer look at what happens to people's bodies when they stay awake for longer than they should. As reported in the journal Sleep, investigators took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins who happened to have different sleep schedules. By comparing the samples from the subjects who slept less to those who slept longer, the researchers determined that the former individuals had depressed immune systems.
"The results are consistent with studies that show when sleep deprived people are given a vaccine, there is a lower antibody response and if you expose sleep deprived people to a rhinovirus they are more likely to get the virus," said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center and lead author of the study. "This study provides further evidence of sleep to overall health and well-being particularly to immune health."
The problem is that a significant body of research suggests that, as a whole, Americans tend to be sleep-deprived. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even call lack of sleep a "public health problem," and have noted that between 50-70 million adults have a sleep-related or wakefulness disorder.
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