Individuals who are regularly deprived of sleep may develop a weak immune system, says a new study.

Researchers at the University of Washington have found that chronic short sleep shuts down programmes involved in the immune response of circulating white blood cells.

The researchers examined the blood samples of 11 pairs of identical twins with varying sleep patterns. The team found that the twin with shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system in comparison with his or her sibling.

“The results are consistent with studies that show when sleep deprived people are given a vaccine, there is a lower antibody response. If you expose sleep deprived people to a rhinovirus they are more likely to get the virus,” said lead author Nathaniel Watson, University of Washington.

Besides environmental influences, genetics account for 31 to 55 percent of sleep duration and behaviour. Hence, the researchers conducted the study on identical twins to avoid the influence of genetics on the results.

“Modern society, with its control of light, omnipresent technology and countless competing interests for time, along with the zeitgeist de-emphasizing sleep’s importance, has resulted in the widespread deprioritisation of sleep,” they stated.

The researchers recommend least seven hours of sleep every night, for optimal health. The immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep.

The study published in the journal Sleep, is one of the first to use real-world conditions to establish how the lack of sleep hampers the functioning of white blood cells.