Research shows that consistent, good night’s sleep supports the immune system

Ensuring consistent good sleep at night supports the normal production and programming of hematopoietic stem cells, the building block of the body’s innate immune system, according to a small study in humans and mice supported by the National Institutes of Health. Sleep has long been linked to immune function, but scientists have found that getting enough sleep affects the environment in which monocytes form, develop, and prepare monocytes – a type of white blood cell – to support immune function. This process, hematopoiesis, takes place in the bone marrow.

Study published in The journal of Experimental Medicine.

We learn that sleep modulates the production of cells that are the main actors of inflammation. Good, high-quality sleep reduces the burden of inflammation. ‘

Dr. Filip K. Swirski, senior author of the study and director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, New York

To assess these mechanisms, scientists investigated the relationship between sleep and monocyte production in humans and mice, which extended the results of earlier mathematical models. Analyzed how sleep disruption increased circulating levels of these immune cells and changed the environment in the bone marrow

In a joint study led by Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge at Columbia University in New York, 14 adults participated in the clinical trial. They each participated in a six-week study that mimicked getting enough sleep (about 7.5 hours each night) or that was causing sleep deprivation. To model sleep restriction, adults reduced nighttime sleep by 1.5 hours, or about 6 hours of sleep each night. Sleep conditions were separated by a six-week “washout” period during which participants reverted to their normal sleep patterns.

Morning and afternoon blood samples were collected at week five and six for each sleep condition. Scientists have found that when adults don’t get enough sleep, they have higher levels of circulating monocytes in the afternoon. They also had more immune stem cells in their blood and evidence of immune activation.

“Stem cells have been imprinted or genetically altered by sleep restriction,” said Swirski. “The change is not permanent, but they continue to self-replicate at a faster pace for a few weeks.”

Higher production of immune cells creates a more homogeneous immune environment that can accelerate clonal hematopoiesis, an age-related condition that is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Previous research has identified genetic mutations that drive hematopoietic stem cell proliferation. However, this study found that putting pressure on the hematopoietic system, in this case by restricting sleep, produced similar results without the driver mutating.

“Sleep contributes to the optimal function of almost every cell and organ in the body,” said Dr. Marishka K. Brown, director of the National Center for the Study of Sleep Disorders, located at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). ). “The mechanistic insights from this study support the results of larger population studies that have shown that sleep may be protective against a variety of conditions, including heart disease, cancer and dementia.”

The study authors said their findings also highlighted the importance of establishing healthy sleep patterns early in life, which could reduce the severity of other inflammatory conditions such as sepsis. Most adults should get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Older adults need around 7-9 hours, while children 11-17 years old need around 8-10 hours.

The study was funded in part by the NHLBI and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.


National Institute of Health

Journal number:

McAlpine, CS, and others (2022) Sleep has a lasting effect on the function and diversity of haematopoietic stem cells. Experimental Medicine Journal.

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