Proper Sleep Could Strengthen Our Immune System, Study Says

A new study gives a possible reason doctors keep telling their sick patients to “get good rest.” Researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany discovered that our bodies might be more able to fight infection with healthy sleep.

The researchers focused on T Cells, or lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells) that are integral to our immune response. They found that our T Cells may attach to virus-infected cells more easily while we sleep, thus boosting immune system activity.

We spoke with lead study author, Stoyan Dimitrov, Ph.D. He told us that the results of this study “suggest that T Cells during sleep will be more effective in destroying viruses.”

Study figure

T Cells And Sleep

During the study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Dimitrov and his colleagues looked at the way Gαs-coupled receptor agonists impacted the ability of T cells to attach to infected cells.

These receptor agonists include signal receptors such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Previous studies found that these receptor agonists suppress our immune system. Other research has also shown that these receptor agonists are at lower levels during sleep than when we are awake.

Basically, there seemed to be a connection between a lack of sleep and a weakened immune system, but the specific causes were unclear.

In an attempt to see exactly what was happening, the researchers considered integrin proteins, the sticky substance that allows T Cells to attach to infected cells.

With integrin activation levels in mind, the researchers looked at a cohort of 10 subjects including five men and five women, all with no history of sleep conditions. They split the subjects into two groups. The “sleep” group was allowed to sleep normally, while members of the “wake” group were kept awake by music and conversation.

The researchers then took blood samples from both groups and compared the integrin activation in their T cells. They found that the “sleep” subjects’ T Cell integrin activation was much higher than that of the “wake” subjects.

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A woman sleeps soundly.
Rachata Teyparsit/Shutterstock

“Sleep is a condition with a low level of Gαs-coupled receptor agonists, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and prostaglandins,” Dimitrov explained to Mattress Clarity. “Given their low concentrations, we showed that integrins are stickier during sleep time.”

While previous research exhibited how Gαs-coupled receptor agonists suppressed our immune response, it was unclear how the receptor agonists specifically affected our T Cells. As Dimitrov said, “In this study, we found out that Gαs-coupled receptor agonists inhibit the stickiness of these proteins.”

However, Dimitrov also told us that there is much more research to be done regarding the effects of sleep and receptor agonists on our immune system. “We showed only that Gαs-coupled receptor agonists inhibit integrin stickiness, but did not show that the adhesion of T cells to virus-infected cells and the killing are also inhibited,” he said. “This needs to be done in the future.”

That being said, Dimitrov explained how these results could also be possibly be applied to cancer treatment. “All these Gαs-coupled receptor agonists are found in high concentrations in tumors for example,” he said. “Blocking of their action might help the immune system to fight the cancer cells.”

Featured image: Shine Nucha/Shutterstock

Marten Carlson

Marten Carlson

Marten is the Lead Reviewer at Mattress Clarity. He is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and covers the mattress industry as well as sleep science news. He is specifically interested in the connection between sleep and overall health. Marten has written for media publications like Consequence of Sound and received a master’s degree in Film Studies from Emory University. He comes from Franklin, Indiana, and spends all the time he can writing, directing, and acting in films.


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