In addition to its effects on cognitive function, compelling evidence links sleep loss to alterations in the neuroendocrine, immune and inflammatory systems with potential negative public-health ramifications. The evidence to suggest that shorter sleep is associated with detrimental health outcomes comes from both epidemiological and experimental sleep deprivation studies. This review will focus on the post-sleep deprivation and recovery changes in immune and inflammatory functions in well-controlled sleep restriction laboratory studies. The data obtained indicate non-specific activation of leukocyte populations and a state of low-level systemic inflammation after sleep loss. Furthermore, one night of recovery sleep does not allow full recovery of a number of these systemic immune and inflammatory markers. We will speculate on the mechanism(s) that link(s) sleep loss to these responses and to the progression of cardiovascular disease. The immune and inflammatory responses to chronic sleep restriction suggest that chronic exposure to reduced sleep (<6 h/day) and insufficient time for recovery sleep could have gradual deleterious effects, over years, on cardiovascular pathogenesis with a heightened risk in women and in night and shift workers. Finally, we will examine countermeasures, e.g., napping or sleep extension, which could improve the recovery processes, in terms of alertness and immune and inflammatory parameters, after sleep restriction.
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