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Does sleep really have an impact on your health? (image via flickr)

Just because something is an old wives’ tale, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  There is no better example of this than the idea that not getting enough sleep will make you sick.  Research has confirmed that there is a link between lack of sleep and an increased susceptibility to illness; lack of sleep won’t make you sick but it can make it more likely that you get sick.  As we approach the start of cold and flu season, understanding this link may be the key to helping you keep your family healthy.

In fact, studies have shown that not only does sleep deprivation impair your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.  It also impacts your ability to recover which may mean you are sick for much long than someone with the same virus who was getting the sleep they need prior to getting sick.


The Sleep – Immune System Connection

When you sleep, your immune system is hard at work.  One of the things it is doing is releasing cytokines, proteins that perform various functions throughout the body.  Some of these cytokines respond to infection, inflammation, and stress, increasing in number in order to combat these conditions.  When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t produce enough of these cytokines, leaving your immune system ill-equipped to fight any bacteria or virus that invades.   Sleep deprivation also seems to impact the number of antibodies and cells designed to fight infection and illness that are available.  Simply not getting enough sleep can make it more likely that you will get sick and degrade your body’s ability to fight back, extending and even exacerbating the illness.


 The Underlying Cause

Although more research needs to be conducted in order to have a conclusive cause, one study that was published in the journal Sleep found that sleep deprivation mirrored the effects of excessive stress on the immune system.   The team looked at how varying sleep conditions and durations impacted the participant’s immune systems.  For the first week of the study, participants were put on a very regimented sleep schedule designed to eliminate any existing sleep deprivation before the end of the week.  Once the week was complete, the immune systems, specifically the white blood cells, were studied to create a baseline of how the immune system of each participant functioned with optimal sleep.  Then the participants were deprived of sleep, going as much as 29 hours without sleep.  Again, the white blood cells of the participants were studied.

The research team found that sleep deprivation caused a significant increase in white blood cell count, mimicking the fight-or-flight stress response.  They found that when participants were deprived of sleep, they experienced a similar cellular response to someone under extreme stress.   Additionally, researchers on this effort and on other studies found that the effects of sleep deprivation on the immune system lasts long after the person returns to a normal sleep pattern.

As cold and flu season approaches and you take precautions like increasing your Vitamin C intake or getting a flu shot, make sure you also put getting a good night sleep every night at the top of the list.  It may be the most important thing you do this year to safeguard your health.


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"I recommend them highly!! I took my 2 year old daughter for a sleep study and was very impressed. Our sleep technician was amazing with her, very patient and kind. The DVD we brought to watch while getting her hooked up got stuck in the TV and they vowed to return it. We got a call the next day checking on our daughter and saying how sweet she was, they mentioned the DVD. Several days later, we received the DVD plus a new copy of the Lion King with a nice note. They are very good at what they do and if they can make a 2 year old feel at ease, they can probably do the same with anyone!!"

Anthea S.

Tempe, AZ

"I was especially impressed with Andrew the Respiratory Therapist who reviewed my study with me and answered my questions. Andrew thoroughly explained everything about the Cpap machine-from start to finish. I never felt rushed and was assured I could contact him with any additional questions or needs. Andrew told me he would follow up with a call in a week and he did. I believe this center performed the study appropriately and the added benefit of having Andrew teach me about the machine and what to expect was a bonus."

Candace M.

Scottsdale, AZ

"Great staff, they make you feel so at home. Every medical facility should be this nice. Felt like a nice hotel. Someone has great taste in decorating. Thanks for making us feel at home."

Steve N.

San Diego, CA