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Sleep deprivation, immune system and exercise


Sleep loss has been identified as detrimental to the body’s immune system for some time. Studies on the impact of a lack of sleep continue. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) reported new research Sept. 21 that revealed new insights into the correlation between sleep loss, a weakened immune system, and higher levels of inflammation. The impact of a lack of sleep can be observed in several areas of the body.

Just over a third (35.2%) of Americans sleep less than the recommended amount of sleep for their age group. According to information updated on September 14 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven hours or more for people aged 18 to 60, seven to nine hours for those aged 61 to 64 and seven to eight hours for those aged 65 and over. For those under 18, recommended sleep times frequently change as children progress from birth to adolescence.

The Cleveland Clinic states that some of the short-term results of lack of sleep are impaired memory and decreased alertness. It can also affect mood, which can lead to mood swings that can harm relationships with others and impair habitual judgement. The potential for additional danger of injury to drivers and those in their path is increased by the likelihood of driving while drowsy due to lack of sleep.

Sleep loss can also lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), lack of sleep contributes to obesity in adults and children, diabetes and symptoms of anxiety. The NCBI also states that sleep disturbances are associated with all types of dementia. They include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

New insights into sleep, the immune system and inflammation

In 2020, the CDC said that less than four hours of sleep could lead to a reduction in the effectiveness of the immune system to 72% because the effectiveness of a type of cell, the Natural Killer (NK) cell, decreased. An 11-year study found that the risk of death from cancer increases by 1.6% in those who sleep four hours or less per night. The CDC also reports that sleep loss increases the likelihood of infection.

The CDC reports that the production of inflammatory cytokines, which contribute to cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, was increased in people receiving four hours of sleep. The September NHLBI report concludes that sleep deprivation is also directly linked to the production of monocytes, a type of white blood cell, which increases inflammation. It was determined that monocyte production was higher in those who did not get enough sleep. Those who conducted the study argue that its findings underscore the need to establish regular sleep patterns early in life, starting in childhood.

Consistency, exercise and sleep

There is no shortage of research on lifestyle habits and the ability to get enough sleep. The Cleveland Clinic suggests that getting enough sleep should be taken as seriously as taking prescription medications. Often getting enough sleep is not considered a priority and this can lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep being a priority, it is important to wake up at the same time every day. Consistency of a regular wake-up time has been shown to improve sleep quality. Relaxing activities before bedtime are recommended, such as reading or a warm bath. The Cleveland Clinic further advises stopping the use of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets at least one hour before your usual bedtime.

Johns Hopkins Medicine also reports that sleep can be improved by exercise at different times of the day. Additionally, exercise can also decrease insomnia. When to exercise to improve sleep can be individual. Johns Hopkins reports that small amounts of aerobic exercise can improve deep sleep. Deep sleep is defined as deep sleep that allows the body and mind to rejuvenate. Since aerobic exercise releases brain-boosting endorphins, it may be advisable to complete it at least one to two hours before preparing for a good night’s sleep. Other exercises beyond aerobics are also effective for better sleep. As with bedtime, it should be consistent.

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Omar P. Haqqani is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Midland Vascular Health Clinics.