Getting extra sleep can help you feel better when you are sick. New research also shows that not getting enough sleep may make you more likely to get sick.
A study by researchers from the University of Helsinki shows that not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The research team was able to identify specific genes that are susceptible to sleep deprivation. They examined whether those genes are involved in regulating the function of the immune system.
The research was conducted at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in the sleep laboratory. The study group consisted of young, healthy men who were each allowed four hours of sleep per night for five days. Blood tests were done both before and after the week of sleep deprivation.
The blood test results were compared with tests from a comparable group of healthy young men who slept eight hours per night for the week.
The research team focused on the genes that showed the greatest change as a result of sleep deprivation. They determined that many genes and gene pathways related to the function of the immune system showed increased activity during the study time.
In particular, they noted that B cells responsible for producing antigens that contribute to the body’s defense mechanisms had increased activity. These same cells are also active in allergic reactions and asthma. Other studies have shown that asthma symptoms tend to increase during times of sleep deprivation.
To study the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, the researchers also used material from the national FINRISKI health survey. This population study included blood tests and survey responses from participants which included questions about adequate sleep.
The researchers noted gene-level changes in people who reported that they were not getting enough sleep. The team believes this study connects lack of sleep with the development of inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.