How Insufficient Sleep Can Damage Your Immune Stem Cells

A new study has highlighted one way insufficient sleep can harm your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and inflammatory disease by damaging your body’s hematopoietic stem cells. So the big question the research was investigating was how sleep influences hematopoiesis, and more specifically monocyte production.

The first step was the recruitment of 14 healthy adults for a sleep experiment.

After a break the cohort then spent six weeks reducing their sleep by around 90 minutes, to roughly six hours per night.

The researchers found just six weeks of sleep disruption led to significant changes in the participants’ hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, those precursor stem cells that eventually become monocytes.

“The stem cells have been imprinted, or genetically altered, under the influence of sleep restriction,” Swirski said.

The researchers then moved to mouse models to further explore the effect of sleep on immune stem cells.

The findings from the human tests were replicated in the animal studies but the researchers also found signals suggesting this sleep deprivation damage to stem cells may not return to normal when better sleep practices resume.

The mice continued to produce excessive volumes of damaged immune stem cells after returning to normal sleep patterns.

Cameron McAlpine, lead investigator on the study, said this suggests insufficient sleep may play a role in speeding up the immune aging process.

“Our findings suggest that sleep recovery is not able to fully reverse the effects of poor-quality sleep,” said McAlpine.

“We can detect a molecular imprint of insufficient sleep in immune stem cells, even after weeks of recovery sleep. This molecular imprint can cause the cells to respond in inappropriate ways leading to inflammation and disease.”

The findings help draw a direct line between sleep problems and cardiovascular disease, as well as offering some clues to how general immune dysfunction can be triggered by poor sleep.

Marishka Brown, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said these novel findings back up many observational studies affirming the health benefits of good sleep practices.