Saturday, August 4, 2012

Link between Sleep and the Immune System

A new study from the researchers at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has found evidence that there is a link between sleep and the immune system. Lack of sleep not only causes lack of concentration and moodiness, it can also reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Their study’s link between the amount of sleep you get and the immune response to vaccines was analyzed by middle-aged participants in a sleep clinic who were monitored on a nightly basis to determine their sleep patterns than administered a three dose hepatitis B vaccine to see how strong their immune system responded.

Researchers have found a link between sleep and the immune system. 7 hours of sleep helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. Those that got less than six hours of sleep on average each night verses those that sleep longer indicated a reduced, inadequate antibody response to the vaccine. In fact, they were more likely 11.5 times to be unprotected by the immunization. Dr. Aric Prather, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at UCSF and U.C. Berkeley stated that the study showed clear evidence of a link between the amount of sleep and an immune process relevant to infectious disease risk.

Today more that 30% of Americans get less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night due to stress, staying up too late at night watching TV or talking to friends on Facebook and/or other sleep related disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. Lack of sleep not only is cause by health problems but is associated with obesity, diabetes Type 2, heart disease and even some cancers.

Melatonin levels change when there is a disruption to the body’s sleep/wake cycle. Melatonin is the hormone that is naturally released at night to prepare the body and mind to fall asleep. Getting too much artificial light at night due to work schedules or watching TV can interfere with the production of melatonin causing ones circadian rhythm to get out of control. Suppressing melatonin maybe the related to other hormones that influence health problems associated with sleep deprivation. Research has shown that adequate sleep is tied to the immune system and it specifically assists the production of protective antibodies that can eliminate bacteria and viruses. Prather also states that lack of sleep causes fluctuations in cell types important in antibody production including alterations in some hormones that influence the immune system like cortisol and human growth hormones.

This study consisted of 125 (70 women, 55 men) healthy, nonsmoking Pennsylvania participants between the ages of 40-60 to determine potential effects of hormonal changes. They kept a sleep journal detailing what time they went to bed, when they woke up and whether they fell asleep easy or not. Some wore actigraphs which electronically monitored their movements and could authenticate they were actually sleeping. Each participant received a standard three-dose hepatitis B vaccine; the first and second dose given a month apart while the final dose was administered at six months. Antibody levels were measured before the second and third dose then again six months after the final dose to establish whether they showed a clinically protective response.

Those that consistently failed to get 7-9 hours of sleep were found to have less vaccine effectiveness while those that had a full night’s sleep were more likely to have a higher antibody response and meet the threshold of protection. Of the 123 participants, 18 did not receive adequate protection from the vaccine. The purpose of this study allowed researchers to monitor immune response over the long term verses a lab-based study where most sleep deprivation results showed a short-lived decrease in antibody levels. Participants in short-term sleep deprivation studies recover quicker because they monitor those that are younger with more resilient immune systems. The current study tracked sleep habits over time and Prather’s team of researchers expected to see variations in people’s immune responses based on their sleep duration, but they didn’t expect to see such a persistently low levels of antibodies six months later.

Prather says, “Sleep needs to take on a larger priority when we think about our health. As scientific evidence continues to converge, it’s my hope that sleep becomes an important topic of discussion, both in the doctor’s office, in our schools and on the health policy level.” Sleep is important to our good health. This study is published in the journal of SLEEP.

Aric A. Prather received his PhD (2010) in Clinical and Biological & Health Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, and completed his clinical training internship in behavioral medicine at Duke University Medical Center. Trained in the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), Aric’s research focuses on psychological, behavioral, and physiologic correlates of immune function, with particular emphasis on restorative processes (e.g. sleep) that may buffer the deleterious effects of stress on health.

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