It is well known that sleep deprivation has harmful consequences for the immune system and may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Finnish researchers have now studied more detailed connections between insufficient sleep and the immune system and discovered which genes react most strongly. The study was presented in “PLOS One”.
For their study, the researchers at Helsinki University restricted the amount of sleep of a group of young men to four hours per night for a week. Blood samples were analysed before and after the trial and compared to those of other men who had been sleeping for eight hours per night.

The study showed that the expression of many genes and pathways associated with the immune system was increased through the lack of sleep, said study author Vilma Aho. Moreover, the activity of B cells increased, which produce important antigens that contribute to the body’s defensive reactions, but also to asthma and allergies. “This may explain the previous observations of increased asthmatic symptoms in a state of sleep deprivation”, said Aho.

The amount of certain interleukins, which promote inflammatory reactions, also increased, as did associated receptors such as TLR (toll-like receptors). The latter was found in genes that had an elevated expression of TLR4. The level of C-reactive protein (CRP) was also higher.

Some of these changes may be long-term and could thereby contribute to the risk of developing diseases, concluded Aho.

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