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Study Finds Insomnia May
Affect Immune System
Excerpt By Stephanie Riesenman, Reuters Health


People with chronic sleep deprivation may be more susceptible to illness than those who regularly get a good night's sleep, according to researchers in Canada.

Insomnia affects about nine to 12 percent of the population. Those with the condition have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, or they wake up early in the morning and can't fall back to sleep. Some people have a combination of these symptoms.

Recent studies have shown that insomniacs rate their lives as more stressful than good sleepers do.

It is also commonly believed that not getting enough sleep leads to vulnerability to illness, and an inability to sleep may slow recovery in those who are already sick. Dr. Josée Savard and colleagues of the Universite Laval in Quebec set out to investigate if there is truth to this belief.

They studied the immune responses of 17 people with chronic insomnia and compared them to 19 good sleepers. All were between the ages of 18 and 45..

Excluded from the study were pregnant women, anyone with a sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea), psychiatric disorder or self-reported medical problems, and those who had recently taken medication that might affect their sleep.

All 36 participants kept sleep diaries for three weeks. They recorded the times they went to bed and woke up, as well as how long it took them to fall asleep and how many times they woke up in the night and for how long.

After two weeks, the participants were interviewed and had blood drawn to measure the number of immune cells in their bloodstream.

When Savard and colleagues compared the blood tests of both groups, they found that the insomniacs had fewer CD3, CD4, and CD8 cells than the good sleepers. These cells are involved in the body's natural defense against certain infections. Other immune cells did not appear to be affected by insomnia.

The findings are published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Chronic insomnia probably increases susceptibility to illnesses like the common cold, but there is no evidence to suggest that insomniacs have an increased risk for more serious diseases, according to Savard.

"Although this data suggests that insomnia has a deleterious effect on immunity, insomniacs should not panic about this," Savard told Reuters Health. "Worrying about the potential consequences on health due to insomnia only makes the problem worse."

The conclusion from this study is that chronic insomnia seems to be associated with altered immunity, according to the researchers. But additional work is needed to determine if there is an optimal quantity of sleep to maintain good immune functioning.

Experiencing occasional sleepless nights does not qualify as insomnia, and Savard said that immune function probably goes back to normal in these individuals after getting a good night's sleep.

For chronic insomniacs the researchers recommend seeking treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Savard said the long-term results are better than those achieved with sleeping pills.

SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine 2003;65:211-221.


Reference Source 89

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