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Sleep Deprivation Takes Same Toll On Body's Immune System As Stress: Study

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Depriving your body of sleep could take the same kind of toll on your immune system as being stressed, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom found that white blood cell counts (also known as granulocytes) jumped at night when the men in the study were severely sleep-deprived, and they also had a decrease in rhythmicity between the daytime and the nighttime.

"The granulocytes reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body's stress response," study researcher Katrin Ackermann, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Eramus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, said in a statement.

The SLEEP study was conducted in 15 young and healthy men who were first put through a week-long period of extremely stabilized sleep -- meaning, they got eight hours of sleep a night, were exposed to 15 minutes or more of daylight within the first hour-and-a-half of waking up, and were not allowed to use any medications, caffeine or alcohol for the last three days of the study.

Then, these same men were kept awake for 29 hours continually so the researchers could evaluate sleep deprivation's effects on their immune systems.

"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," Ackermann said in the statement.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence showing that getting enough sleep is vital to a healthy body and immune system. Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine reports that feelings of fatigue are actually promoted when people are sick and their immune systems are mobilizing to conquer the infection.

In addition, animal research shows that deeper sleep is linked with greater chance of surviving an infection, Harvard reported.

Slate reported that after just 24 hours of no sleep, detrimental changes in the body are already starting to occur -- like rising levels of stress hormone, which bumps up blood pressure levels. And after one to two days of no sleep, the body decreases its ability to properly metabolize glucose, the immune system stops working as well and the body's internal temperature begins to sink, Slate reported.

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