Irregular Sleep Could Weaken Your Immune System
19 Feb, 2012 - 10:00am
We have all heard about just how important sleep is for our bodies. Not only is it necessary for us to function, but it also plays an important role on our weight and metabolism, our mood, our cardiovascular health, and disease . The frightening side effects of sleep deprivation are only compounded by the fact that a many Americans are sleep deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 40 million Americans suffer from some type of sleeping disorder, with 60% of adults saying that they do have sleep problems a few nights a week, if not more.
But do we do anything to help cure our insomnia or our sleep problems? Not really.
Perhaps the newest study to come out of the journal Immunity this week will have people taking their sleep a whole lot more seriously than they have before. Now we’ve all heard about our circadian rhythm and we’re aware that our body functions on a 24 hour cycle. While it’s been proven that this rhythm and how we follow it does affect things like our metabolism and memory, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine in the United States have now been able to prove that sleep – or lack thereof – can influence our vulnerability to disease.
Lab mice were used to conduct the study. Dr Erol Fikrig, a professor of epidemiology and microbial pathogenesis at Yale, along with his colleagues, found that the circadian clock in mice was controlled by the “Toll-like receptor 9” (or TLR-9). This gene is incredibly important for our immune system as it reacts any presence of DNA from harmful bacteria and viruses.
What was discovered was that the mice had the strongest response to vaccinations, and the highest ability to resist any infection, when their expression levels of TLR-9 were also at their highest point. And in order for the TLR-9 to be at its highest point, the mice needed to have a decent amount of sleep.
This has raised a lot of questions about how sleep deprivation and sleep problems may affect human health. One observation that researchers find to be significant is the fact that septic human patients are most likely to die between 2 and 6am, possibly when their sleep is disturbed. Fikrig made the comment that the “… sleeping patterns of patients in intensive care are often disrupted because of the noise and prolonged exposure to artificial light… it will be important to investigate how these actors influence immune system response.”
The study could have very important implications on how we both prevent and treat diseases. Rather than reach for a pill, perhaps a darkened, quiet room that allows one to ease into sleep would be better treatment. Maybe sleep plays a far larger role on our immunity than we even realize. The study has unveiled a new, direct molecular link between the body clock and our immunity, thus opening up a pathway to explore all new therapies that could help treat and even cure disease.