Missing a night's sleep has the same effect on the immune system as experiencing physical stress, a new study from the Netherlands finds.
In the study, men who were kept continuously awake for 29 hours showed an increase in levels of white blood cells called granulocytes. And while levels of these white blood cells usually go through vary throughout a normal day, this rhythm was lost during sleep deprivation, the researchers said.
Sleep deprivation is known to be associated with the development of obesity, and with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and breast cancer. Further research is needed to understand how changes in the immune system may influence the development of these diseases, the researchers said.
Because the study was small, future research is needed to confirm the results.
The researchers compared the white blood cell counts of 15 healthy young men under normal and severely sleep-deprived conditions. During the study, blood samples were collected every three hours for a 48-hour period.
The study was published on June 30 in the journal Sleep.
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