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Study examines immune system's response to sleep deprivation

DARIEN, Ill. — Sleep deprivation prompts an immediate response from the body's immune system, according to a new study.

The "Diurnal Rhythms in Blood Cell Populations and the Effect of Acute Sleep Deprivation in Healthy Young Men" study — a collaborative effort between the department of forensic molecular biology at Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam and chronobiology, faculty of health and medical sciences at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom — categorized and measured the white blood cells (known as granulocytes) from 15 young men.

During the first part of the study, the participants were placed on a strict schedule of eight hours of sleep every day for a week, were exposed to at least 15 minutes of outdoor light within the first 90 minutes of waking and were prohibited from using caffeine, alcohol or medication during the final three days. During the second part of the study, the participants were exposed to 29 hours of continued wakefulness. When comparing white blood cell counts in a normal sleep/wake cycle with white blood cell counts in a state of sleep deprivation, the researchers discovered that white blood cells showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity, as well as increased numbers, particularly at night.

"Future research will reveal the molecular mechanisms behind this immediate stress response and elucidate its role in the development of diseases associated with chronic sleep loss," said Katrin Ackermann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Eramus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the study's lead author. "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. The granulocytes reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body’s stress response."


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