Diseases arising from sleep deprivation are far more common than we may think, as Jeremy Whittaker learns that an hour away from your bed could be damaging your immune system.
If food is fuel for the body, then sleep must be fuel for the mind.
While experts in the field of sleep advise adults above the age of 26 to get anywhere between seven to nine hours of sound sleep, the reality of how people treat their sleep patterns can vary greatly – and as it turns out, this can have lasting effects on your body.
So, are you getting enough sleep? It’s a query that’s often met with smiles from the people we surveyed.
“Six hours,” answers Joseph*, the team leader of an automotive dealer in the country. His wife Annie – a flight attendant – on the other hand tells us that she routinely clocks less than five hours of sleep.
It’s not just Joseph and Annie, either. This trend continues as we speak to more adults from our focus group of people above the age of 26 – and it also forms the basis of Dr. Elias Said’s research paper on the matter.
The assistant professor from Sultan Qaboos University’s College of Medicine (Department of Microbiology and Immunology) details his study to us, saying: “Adults should sleep at least seven hours daily in a continuous manner.
“Anything less than that is considered ‘sleep deprivation.’”
However, sleep deprivation, a term rarely taken seriously, can pose health risks that can even result in complications leading to death.
Dr. Elias’ also goes on to show a worrying correlation between lack of sleep and the body’s immune system. This is a matter of concern, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that changing lifestyles and trends have resulted in a decrease in the average nocturnal sleeping time – from seven hours per night to less than six hours.
This comprises 35.2 per cent of all adults and increases as high as 50 per cent in developed countries.
“Sleep deprivation will affect the immune system,” he reiterates. “It’s also linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and blood pressure, aside from affecting mood, ability to concentrate, and one’s memory.
“In our study of sleep deprived volunteers, we learned that the capacity of the immune cells (neutrophils) to ‘eat’ –phagocytose – and kill bacteria was reduced.
“Also, they had a decrease in CD4 T Lymphocyte cells that are very important in regulating all the responses that fight infection and cancer.
As per the CDC, the CD4 T Lymphocytes play a vital role in leading the immune system to efficiently respond to fight different diseases. So, a decrease in the number of these cells found in the study suggests that their role in fighting cancers properly is compromised.
Dr. Elias then says, “This, in turn, was linked to a sharp change in the levels of some proteins of the immune system – chemokines – that are responsible for the distribution of the immune cells around the body.”
The relationship between sleep and the human immune system is a field that’s gaining attention quickly. “We’re now still in the phase where we’re discovering the effect of sleep on the immune system, however, the exact causes (direct link) are still only being studied.”
As Joseph tells us: “This is a spooky revelation indeed. Still, with the rates of cancer at an all-time high in the GCC, it’s only fair to suspect that greater lifestyle changes are at play here.
“And, if sleep is playing a factor in this, then I think we all need to heed the message and change our routines.”
*Name changed to protect identity