Sleep Can Be the Best Medicine | Ramsay Health UK

Sleep Can Be the Best Medicine

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As it's World Sleep Day, a new research has revealed how sleep can help the body to fight infection.

Investigators have discovered the reasons behind how sleep can improve the body's immune response. Naturally low levels of certain signalling molecules during sleep can help immune cells to attach to their targets and work more efficiently.

Sleep benefits

It is well recognised that sleep is important for good health, and most people know from experience that having a good night’s sleep can help them to feel better when the body is fighting an infection.

This study led by researchers at the University of Tübingen, Germany, set out to investigate the mechanisms behind the beneficial effects of sleep on the immune system.

Integrins

When fighting an infection, the immune system releases T-cells that recognise and kill infected cells. The T-cells attach to the infected cells by activating sticky proteins called integrins.

The researchers decided to investigate whether stopping integrin production could affect the body’s immune response. They discovered that a group of signalling molecules, known as ‘Gαs-coupled receptor agonists’, prevented T-cells from activating integrins by increasing the activity of a protein called the s-coupled receptor.

Sleep study

s-coupled receptor agonists include the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, and the inflammatory molecule prostaglandin. Because levels of these hormones and inflammatory molecules are naturally lower during sleep, the researchers suspected that sleeping would allow less interference with integrin production and help T-cells to do their job better.

To test this, they compared samples of T-cells taken from healthy volunteers while they slept or stayed awake all night.

As predicted, the T-cells from people who stayed awake had much lower integrin activation than the T-cells of those who slept.

Enhanced immunity

The study results, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, clearly demonstrate the effects of low levels of s-coupled receptor agonists and increased integrin production on the immune system during sleep.

Co-author Luciana Besedovsky explained that: “Our findings show that sleep has the potential to enhance the efficiency of T-cell responses, which is especially relevant in light of the high prevalence of sleep disorders and conditions characterised by impaired sleep, such as depression, chronic stress, ageing and shift work.”

As well as helping to explain the beneficial effects of sleep, this study could help the development of new therapeutic strategies such as improving the ability of T-cells to attach to and kill tumour cells in cancer therapy.

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