Severe sleep loss and exposure to stress. They’re not exactly identical twins – more like pretty close and very destructive cousins.
That’s a conclusion to be drawn from the work of researchers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, who compared the white blood cell counts of 15 healthy young men under normal and severely sleep-deprived conditions.
White blood cells – granulocytes – showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity, along with increased numbers, particularly at night. While other studies have associated sleep restriction and sleep deprivation with the development of diseases like obesity, hypertension and obesity, scientists have long known that sleep helps sustain the immune system’s ability to function and chronic sleep loss is a risk factor for immune system impairment.
In this new study, the team, headed by Katrin Ackermann, PhD, followed 15 young men following a strict schedule of eight hours of sleep every day for a week. Participants 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 project. These requirements were designed to stabilize participants’ circadian clocks and minimize sleep deprivation before the intense research study.
In the second part of the experiment, white blood cell counts were collected during 29 hours of continual wakefulness. “The granulocytes reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body’s stress response,” reported Ackermann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Eramus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Ackermann noted that future research will be necessary to explain the molecular mechanisms behind this “immediate stress response” to sleep deprivation. “If confirmed with more data, this will have implications for clinical practice and for professions associated with long-term sleep loss, such as rotating shift work.”
For the moment, the less is a restatement of what your mother and physicians have been telling you for years: “Get a good night’s sleep if you want to stay healthy.”
The Brain Training Centers of Florida are here to help individuals with sleep loss and stress issues seven days per week between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM. These are among many areas the Centers are able to help with. For more information, call (305) 412-5050.
Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.