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Poor sleep increases risk of infection

Scientists have long known that sleep deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental illness. Now, by surveying nearly 2,000 patients in Norway, a team of researchers led by the University of Bergen has found that people who reported sleeping less than six or more than nine hours per day were at a higher risk of infections and more likely to need antibiotics.

“Most previous observational studies have looked at the association between sleep and infection in a sample of the general population,” said lead author Ingeborg Forthun, a postdoctoral fellow in Health Sciences at Bergen. “We wanted to assess this association among patients in primary care, where we know that the prevalence of sleep problems is much higher than in the population at large.”

The researchers asked medical students to provide a questionnaire to patients in the waiting-rooms of the general practitioners’ offices where the students were working. The patients were asked to describe their sleep quality – in terms of how long they usually sleep, how well they feel they sleep, and when they prefer to sleep – and report whether they had had any infections or used antibiotics during the previous three months.

The investigation revealed that individuals who reported sleeping less than six or more than nine hours per night were 27 and 44 percent more likely to report an infection, respectively. Moreover, those with chronic insomnia needed antibiotics more often to overcome infections.

“The higher risk of reporting an infection among patients who reported short or long sleep duration is not that surprising as we know that having an infection can cause both poor sleep and sleepiness. But the higher risk of an infection among those with a chronic insomnia disorder indicate that this relationship also goes in the other direction; poor sleep can make your more susceptible to an infection,” Forthun explained.

“Insomnia is very common among patients in primary care but found to be under-recognized by general practitioners. Increased awareness of the importance of sleep, not only for general well-being, but for patients’ health, is needed both among patients and general practitioners,” she concluded.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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