Natural Killer Cells Need A Good Night's Sleep

January 23, 1998

Disrupted sleep may be weakening the immune systems of elderly widows and widowers, new findings suggest.

Researchers at the UPMC Health Systems (UPMC) Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh studied 29 patients aged 40 to 78 who were seeking treatment for bereavement-related depression.

Each patient spent three nights in a sleep lab as part of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the treatment of bereavement-related depression between 1995 and 1996. None of the subjects had any infectious illnesses at the time and all were experiencing their first lifetime episode of major depression.

Analysis of their blood samples showed that those whose sleep had been disrupted had decreased levels of natural killer cells (NKCs), which take their name from the way they help destroy illness-causing cells. A decreased NKC count indicates a weakened immune system and a body more vulnerable to illness.

The study, published in the January-February issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, "provides the first direct evidence that...sleep disruptions are associated with the stress-immune relationship in humans," the researchers write. "Stress-related intrusive thoughts and avoidance behaviors were associated with greater time spent awake during the first sleep cycle which, in turn, was associated with lower numbers of circulating NKCs."

The findings prove that maintaining good sleep is important for the elderly to maintain health, according to the primary author, Martica Hall, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical College's Department of Psychiatry. She said the findings show the importance of developing interventions that reduce illnesses caused by stress-related sleep disruptions.

Although sleep disruptions associated with bereavement or other stressful life events may play an important role in illness susceptibility, Hall said, it is not yet known whether doctors can improve patients' health by improving their sleep.

"We know that it is better to treat the underlying problem, bereavement-related depression, than to simply treat the symptom, disturbed sleep, with a sleeping pill," Hall said. "The potential health benefits of treating bereavement-related depression, including its sleep disruptions, is one of the research avenues we are now following."

Center for Advancing Health

Related Sleep Articles from Brightsurf:

Size and sleep: New research reveals why little things sleep longer
Using data from humans and other mammals, a team of scientists including researchers from the Santa Fe Institute has developed one of the first quantitative models that explains why sleep times across species and during development decrease as brains get bigger.

Wind turbine noise affects dream sleep and perceived sleep restoration
Wind turbine noise (WTN) influences people's perception of the restorative effects of sleep, and also has a small but significant effect on dream sleep, otherwise known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a study at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows.

To sleep deeply: The brainstem neurons that regulate non-REM sleep
University of Tsukuba researchers identified neurons that promote non-REM sleep in the brainstem in mice.

Chronic opioid therapy can disrupt sleep, increase risk of sleep disorders
Patients and medical providers should be aware that chronic opioid use can interfere with sleep by reducing sleep efficiency and increasing the risk of sleep-disordered breathing, according to a position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

'Short sleep' gene prevents memory deficits associated with sleep deprivation
The UCSF scientists who identified the two known human genes that promote 'natural short sleep' -- nightly sleep that lasts just four to six hours but leaves people feeling well-rested -- have now discovered a third, and it's also the first gene that's ever been shown to prevent the memory deficits that normally accompany sleep deprivation.

Short sleep duration and sleep variability blunt weight loss
High sleep variability and short sleep duration are associated with difficulties in losing weight and body fat.

Nurses have an increased risk of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation
According to preliminary results of a new study, there is a high prevalence of insufficient sleep and symptoms of common sleep disorders among medical center nurses.

Common sleep myths compromise good sleep and health
People often say they can get by on five or fewer hours of sleep, that snoring is harmless, and that having a drink helps you to fall asleep.

Sleep tight! Researchers identify the beneficial role of sleep
Why do animals sleep? Why do humans 'waste' a third of their lives sleeping?

Does extra sleep on the weekends repay your sleep debt? No, researchers say
Insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders put people at increased risk for metabolic problems, including obesity and diabetes.

Read More: Sleep News and Sleep Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to