Do you think that not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to get sick? Well, it’s not just your imagination, it’s true. And now we know why: sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system. This insight has been brought forward by other studies in the past, but the most recent study is unprecedented in its control of potential confounders, including genetic variation.

woman resting on her couch with a cold

Real World Conditions

Although many of us accept that poor sleep makes you more likely to be sick, it’s mostly known through anecdotal evidence. The insight that poor sleep suppresses the immune system comes primarily from sleep lab studies, which offer only limited conditions for study. For example, these studies can’t tell us whether the immune system is depressed because people don’t sleep well in the lab or because they have long-term sleep deprivation. It can’t tell us whether people tend to get adapted to short sleep or if the effects remain.

This study sought to examine the effect of sleep deprivation under real world conditions. To accomplish this, researchers identified 11 pairs of identical twins who had significantly different sleeping habits. They then took blood samples from the twins and found that the twin with a shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system compared with the one that slept longer.

This is actually a critically important insight because this is the first study to control for genetic factors with the use of twins. We estimate that genetics accounts for 31 to 55 % of sleep duration variation. That means that not controlling for genetics leaves a lot of doubt into the conclusions of a study.

But with this study, we can see that it’s the variation of sleep (an average of one hour, four minutes difference between twins in a pair), not genetic factors that are to blame. We also know that it’s not just one bad night that can suppress your immune system: it remains suppressed as long as you’re not sleeping properly.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Many people think they’re getting enough sleep. The truth is that many of us aren’t, even if we think we are. The problem is that for people with snoring or sleep apnea, you aren’t sleeping nearly as much as you think you are. With either of these conditions, you are liable to repeated sleep disturbances, and you may not even know it. That is, until you wake up in the morning and feel like you haven’t gotten any rest overnight.

The problem can be compounded because snoring costs your partner sleep, too. And when you have two people in the house with suppressed immune systems, the possibility for contagion is that much worse.

If you think you’re getting enough sleep at night but you keep feeling tired during the day, you may have sleep apnea. An Omaha sleep can direct you to a sleep doctor who can help you find out the truth. And then you can work together to find the optimal treatment for you. Please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha.