Doing this at night ruins your immune system – the best of life

Living through a global pandemic has given many of us a better understanding of the importance of our immune system. However, far too many of us still engage in unhealthy habits that impair our body’s defenses. We’re doing this in part because scientists are still learning how our lifestyles and immune systems are connected—and up until recently, it’s fair to say that most of us just didn’t know any better.

Now, new research is shedding light on how a late-night habit could wreck your immune system and put you at increased risk for a number of serious health conditions. Read on to learn which one unhealthy habit could be targeting your immune system, and why it can often lead to a higher chance of heart disease, dementia, and more.

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Close up side portrait of healthy young African American woman holding apple
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A robust and healthy immune system helps your body protect itself from disease. Without them, you are far more susceptible to illnesses and infections, including cold and flu viruses to more serious chronic conditions.

“Our immune system is complex and influenced by many factors,” explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Vaccines build immunity against certain diseases. Some additional ways you can boost your immune system include eating well, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, not smoking, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption.”

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Man suffering from insomnia lying in bed can't sleep at 2am according to clock on bedside table

A good night’s sleep will leave you feeling rested and refreshed – but the benefits go much deeper. A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine Joint data from human and animal studies showing that insufficient sleep for just six weeks can all but ruin your immune system.

In the human study, researchers assembled a group of 14 healthy adult volunteers who were accustomed to getting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. After taking control samples of their blood, they reduced the subjects’ sleep by 90 minutes per night during the six-week study period, and then took a second blood sample again for comparison.

“In subjects who had undergone sleep restriction, the number of immune cells circulating in the blood was higher. These cells play a key role in inflammation,” said the study’s co-author Philip Swirskysaid the director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Icahn Mount Sinai in New York NBC News. “The key message of this study is that sleep reduces inflammation and lack of sleep increases inflammation.”

Couple talking to doctor closeup of hands

When your immune system is compromised, you’re more susceptible to a variety of health conditions, says Kristen Knutson, Associate Professor at the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “It plays a big role in many other health conditions,” she said NBC News. “Anything that affects the immune system can have far-reaching effects.”

Not only does chronic sleep deprivation make you more vulnerable to infectious diseases, but it can also increase your risk of inflammatory diseases like sepsis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia.

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Not only did the researchers see an increased number of immune cells after the six-week study period, suggesting an inflammatory immune response, but also that the stem cells — which later become immune cells — also exhibited functional changes that worsened with each new bout of insomnia.

More research is needed to determine whether these effects of poor sleep are permanent, or whether stem cells are better able to recover over months or years. However, experts say one thing is clear: Consistently adequate sleep is critical to your health. “You can’t break yourself during the week and catch up at the weekend,” said Knutsen. Doing this at night ruins your immune system – the best of life

Sarah Y. Kim

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