The body’s natural ‘circadian’ clock determines whether we fall victim to illness, scientists have found after discovering a link between disrupted sleep patterns and the gene that controls the immune system.
Researchers from Yale University linked the immunity gene TLR-9 (a protein that can 'spot' DNA from bacteria and viruses) to the body's circadian clock - a finely tuned genetic mechanism that regulates our sleep cycle and metabolic changes during the 24-hour cycle.
Scientist, who tested on lab rats, found that the circadian clock controls the activity levels of TLR-9 and discovered that when the gene was at its highest level, it was able to respond better to bacteria and viruses.
This means the body is more likely to fight infections and respond well to vaccinations when the gene is at its most active - but for it to peak, the circadian clock needs to be functioning properly, which is where the disrupted sleep patterns come in.
"People intuitively know that when their sleep patterns are disturbed, they are more likely to get sick," professor Erol Fikrig from the study, said in a statement.
"It does appear that disruptions of the circadian clock influences our susceptibility to pathogens (infection)," adds Professor Fikrig.
Researchers added that they hope their findings lead to further investigation into 'body clock impacting medicine' where drugs are given at the peak times of the day when the immune system is at its most active.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly a third of Brits suffer from insomnia, resulting in over 10 million sleeping pill prescriptions being issued each year. Find out how to overcome insomnia without taking medication.
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