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Stem cells are unique for the role they play. They are effectively the body’s raw material – the cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are created, such as those which constitute our blood, brain, or bone.

That is not the only way they are unique. One of stem cells defining features is that unlike other cells, they don’t exhaust themselves. After undertaking their duties, they are able to enter a state of hibernation which allows for self-renewal.

They effectively go to sleep and in doing so they make themselves young again, a process known as reversible quiescence. In the body these sleeping stem cells can then remain dormant for years until called into action again.

Now we know that stem cells sleep, what impact does sleep have on our stem cells?

Sleep keeps our stem cells younger for longer

Stem cells are our bodies fixers. They repair injuries on a cellular level. More often than not, they do so while our bodies are dormant at rest.

As we get older, the number of stem cells doing the repairing decreases and the ones left lose some of their abilities. This is  the natural process of aging. For a long time scientists assumed it was that simple.

However, research indicates that respecting our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms when we are younger may be an important factor in arresting the rate of  stem cell aging.

Studies show that a good night’s sleep has the ability to keep your stem cells younger for longer.

What the findings show is that when our circadian rhythm is disrupted, it affects how well we sleep, as well as impacts our whole body – including the performance of our stem cells.

Poor sleep leads to poor stem cell transplants

Research conducted on mice at the Stanford School of Medical Science discovered that sleep-deprivation reduces the efficiency of bone marrow transplants, also known as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), a cellular therapy that was first pioneered over 50 years ago.

The results of the experiment concluded that missing 4 hours sleep could affect the ability of the stem cells to successfully migrate by a shocking 50%.

Considering that thousands of these procedures are conducted each year on patients with blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma and disorders of the immune system, the impact of these findings should not be underestimated.

What exactly happens to sleep-deprived stem cells to impair their functionality? Under observation it appears the hematopoietic stem cells  (HSCs) taken from the sleep-deprived mice undergo genetic changes that prevent migration.

This was determined by researchers, who noted that when genetic changes were identified and experimentally corrected, the stem cells were able to migrate normally again. While these studies were conducted in mice, the researchers are relatively confident the same is true in humans.

Asya Rolls, PhD, formerly of Stanford, certainly believes the findings to be significant, pointing out that little attention is given to sleep quality in the hospital setting prior to a transplantation procedure. She states, “We go to great trouble to find a matching donor, but research suggests that if the donor is not well-rested it can impact the outcome of the transplantation.”

She continues optimistically by stating that a relatively short period of recovery sleep before transplant can restore the donor’s cells ability to function normally.

Her optimism is based on follow-up research Rolls and her colleagues conducted in which they allowed sleep-deprived mice to recoup missed sleep. With only two hours of recovery sleep, the stem cells within the animals returned to normal functionality.

The link between sleep and the performance of our bodies stem cells still requires much research. We only beginning to understand the profound connection between the two.

Considering how important high-quality sleep is to nearly every one of our bodily functions, we need to continue investigation into understanding the connection between circadian rhythms, sleep quality, and stem cell performance.

For advice and tips on how to improve your own sleep, explore the Sleeping Advice provided by the team at the Sleep Advisor blog. It might just keep your stem cells younger for longer.