Effect of long-term sleep restriction and subsequent recovery sleep on the diurnal rhythms of white blood cell subpopulations

Publication Karolinska Institutet

Julie Lasselin, Javaid-ur Rehman, Torbjorn Åkerstedt Mats Lekandera, John Axelsson.

Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Jul;47:93-9


While acute modifications of sleep duration induces a wide array of immune function alterations, less is known of how longer periods with insufficient sleep affect immune functions and how they return to normal once recovery sleep is obtained. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of five days of restricted sleep and a subsequent 7-day period of sleep recovery on white blood cell (WBC) subpopulation count and diurnal rhythms. Nine healthy males participated in a sleep protocol consisting of two baseline days (8 h of sleep/night), five nights with restricted sleep (4 h of sleep/night) and seven days of recovery sleep (8 h of sleep/night). During nine of these days, blood was drawn hourly during night-time end every third hour during daytime, and differential WBC count was analyzed. Gradual increase across the days of sleep restriction was observed for total WBC (p < .001), monocytes (p < .001), neutrophils (p < .001) and lymphocytes (p < .05). Subsequent recovery sleep resulted in a gradual decrease in monocytes (p < .001) and lymphocytes (p = .001), but not in neutrophils that remained elevated over baseline level at the end of the 7-day recovery period. These effects were associated with altered diurnal rhythms of total WBC and neutrophils, restricted sleep being associated with higher levels during the night and at awakening, resulting in a flattening of the rhythm. The diurnal alterations were reversed when recovery sleep was allowed, although the amplitude of total WBC, neutrophils and monocytes was increased at the end of the recovery period in comparison to baseline. Altogether, these data show that long-term sleep restriction leads to a gradual increase of circulating WBC subpopulations and alterations of the respective diurnal rhythms. Although some of the effects caused by five days of restricted sleep were restored within the first days of recovery, some parameters were not back to baseline even after a period of seven recovery days.