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Fending off AIDS with deep sleep?

Fending off AIDS with deep sleep?

People infected with the AIDS virus (HIV) experience abnormal sleep patterns long before clinical symtoms of the disease erupt, according to preliminary research results. Scientists say such findings eventually may help them unravel the complicated relationship between sleep and a rebust immune system.

Suzan E. Norman of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach and her colleagues studied the sleeppatterns of 10 homosexual men aged 20 to 46 who felt healthy and showed no signs of early AIDS but tested positive for HIV infection. Researchers have demonstrated that HIV can remain in the body for years before causing overt AIDS symptoms. Norman's team questioned the men about their sleeping history and had them sleep in a laboratory for two nights. They found that the men spent 21.4 percent of the night in the very deep sleep stages called slow-wave sleep -- an amount significantly longer than average. Most healthy people in that age group spend about 16 percent of the night in slow-wave sleep, Norman says.

The scientists don't know what to make of their finding, but the speculate that increased slow-wave sleep reflects the body's early attempt to fight off HIV before the virus devastates the immune system. Animal studies show that certain lymphokines -- powerful chemicals regulating the body's immune response -- promote slow-wave sleep. The longer periods of slow-wave sleep seen in apparently healthy people testing positive for HIV may be connected with a marshaling of the immune system in response to the viral threat, norman says. She plans to take the research one step farther by drawing blood samples during the night to see if healthy HIV-positives have elevated levels of these lymphokines.

Researchers don't yet understand the connection between the immune system and sleep, but Norman says she hopes these early studies will provide some clues. In the meantime, the researchers are well on their way to proving the adage linking robust health to a good night's sleep.
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Title Annotation:Biomedicine
Author:Fackelmann, Kathy
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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