Bad News for Late Night Workers

In what is sure to be seen as bad news for those who work third shift, researchers say new research shows that when you sleep is as important as how much you sleep.

In the research, conducted at Washington State University and published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, scientists shifted mice from their usual cycle of sleeping and waking and saw that, while they got enough sleep, it was of poorer quality. The animals also had a disrupted immune response, leaving them more open to illness.

Most sleep research focuses on the effects of sleep deprivation or the overall amount of sleep an animal needs. This is generally referred to as sleep’s homeostatic process, which is driven by sleepiness or “sleep pressure.”

“Disruption of the circadian clock is nearly ubiquitous in our modern society” says Ilia Karatsoreos, an assistant professor in WSU’s Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience.  That disruption comes from a number of things, including shift work, jet lag and the blue-tinged light emitted by cell phones and tablets, and even simple everyday electric light.

Typically, sleep researchers have a hard time studying sleep deprivation and the circadian cycle separately, as a change in one usually affects the other. However, Karatsoreos and his colleagues saw their model did not affect an animal’s total sleep, giving them a unique look into the effects on the timing of the sleeping-waking cycle.

The researchers saw that the disrupted animals had blunted immune responses in some cases or an overactive response in others, suggesting the altered circadian cycle made them potentially less able to fight illness and more likely to get sick.

“This represents a very clear dysregulation of the system,” said Karatsoreos. “The system is not responding in the optimal manner.” Over time, he said, this could have serious consequences for an organism’s health.

Source: News release