You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks not getting enough sleep is good for them. How could something which makes you feel so terrible be anything but awful for your body? Thanks to advances in sleep data collection and clinical medical research, sleep scientists are beginning to finally understand just how detrimental not getting enough sleep is for you, and it turns out it’s one of the worst health choices you can make. Poor sleep has been linked with all sorts of harmful mental and physical disorders and even lead to suicidal thoughts. Now, a new study claims to have found that a lack of sleep can suppress the immune system, contrary to previous studies.

The study involved 11 pairs of identical twins whose average nightly sleep duration were different by at least an hour. Each twin wore a series of sleep sensors each night while keeping a sleep diary two weeks, during which time blood samples were taken to examine white blood cell counts and gene expression. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that twins who slept more had much healthier immune function than twins who got fewer hours of sleep.

According to Dr. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center, these data underscore how vital healthy sleep habits are for maintaining a functioning immune system:

What we show is that the immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep. Seven or more hours of sleep is recommended for optimal health. The results are consistent with studies that show when sleep deprived people are given a vaccine, there is a lower antibody response and if you expose sleep deprived people to a rhinovirus they are more likely to get the virus. This study provides further evidence of sleep to overall health and well-being particularly to immune health.

Given how widespread the flu and other communicable illnesses were this past flu season, is it time to start prescribing sleep as some sleep researchers have called for?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact him at [email protected]

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