The Sticky Reason Sleep Boosts Immune Systems

How Sleep Boosts Immune System


Getting the sleep you need can boost your immune system.

But what precisely is it about sleep that makes it possible for the body to fight viruses and bacteria and activate certain immune functions?

All the smarties out there are saying, “I know, I know! It’s T cells.” True. But what are T cells, those itty bitty white blood cells, actually doing?

A team of smarties—actually, scientists in Germany—conducted a 24-hour sleep experiment with two groups of volunteers. One group was allowed to sleep eight hours at night while the other group had to stay awake. During the night blood was drawn from participants. By the way, you signed that waiver, right?

Researchers looked at the blood samples to determine the binding strength of T cells. To fight viruses, the T cells must bind to a specific molecule enabling T cells to attach to other cells. T cells are like a pickup truck that needs a hitch to pull a trailer. T cells are the truck and that binding molecule is the hitch. Together, they are able to hook up to that trailer-virus and haul it away. 

In the experiment, researchers wanted to see how sticky the T cells were in participants who got sufficient sleep and those who did not. 

Like the truck with a good hitch, the ability of T cells to fasten to other cells is very important to their ability to fight infections and body invaders. T cells have to circulate through the bloodstream, constantly seeking and destroying pathogens. They do this by adhering to other cells. Truck, hitch, trailer. 

The sleep study showed in sleep-deprived participants, T cell adhesion was significantly reduced. Under microscopes they took a close look at plasma, the part of blood containing soluble substances like hormones. Researchers placed plasma against isolated T cells for a few minutes and noticed the T cells among the sleep deprived were much less sticky compared to plasma from the group that slept.

By this point you might be asking how much sleep deprivation we’re talking about here. Dr. Luciana Besedovsky, one of the lead researchers said, "Just three hours without sleep are sufficient to reduce the function of important immune cells.”

Just three hours. 

Think about how much sleep you lose tossing and turning in a night, or over the course of a week, because you can’t get comfortable.

For many people the culprit is a bad or old mattress. It’s been shown a quality mattress that offers proper support, spinal alignment and pressure relief can provide deeper, restorative sleep.

Experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep Disorders say chronic sleep deprivation is the most common sleep problem, and they recommend first looking at simple solutions that can get you better sleep.

In a time when immune system health is a top priority, it’s important to make sure you’re giving your body its best chance to fight viruses. The T cell sleep experiment offers more evidence that only sleep offers certain restorative health benefits.