ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Mothers for millennia have exhorted children to get enough sleep to avoid becoming sick. But is there evidence to support mother's claim? And if we do happen to get sick, are the changes in our sleep beneficial?
Links between sleep and the immune system are the topic of a study published today in Nature Reviews Neuroscience by Luca Imeri, M.D., of the University of Milan, and Mark R. Opp, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan Health System.
The authors focus on the means by which the immune system tells the brain that there is an infection and that we should sleep differently. "We have all experienced the lethargy and malaise that accompany common infections, such as ‘a cold' or the flu," says Opp, the senior author of the study. "Only recently has science started to understand how infection alters our sleep. As we understand more about how the immune system affects our sleep, we will be able to answer important questions, such as: Does the way we sleep when we are sick help us recover?"
The authors propose that for some infections the changes in sleep help us to develop a fever, which is one of the major ways the immune system fights infections. "In addition to changes in sleep when we are sick," Opp adds, "we are also beginning to appreciate that the way we sleep really does affect our immune system."
For example, Opp says, "even short periods of sleep loss around the time of a vaccination reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine. These types of studies demonstrate that insufficient sleep can interfere with the body's immune response."
So perhaps our mothers were right after all, Opp notes, as continuing efforts to understand how our sleep affects our immune system are beginning to demonstrate.
For more information, please contact:
Mark R. Opp, Ph.D.
Department of Anesthesiology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Imeri L & Opp MR (2009) How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, doi:10.1038/nrn2576
Written by Mark Opp