, Volume 463, Issue 1, pp 121-137,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 10 Nov 2011

Sleep and immune function

Abstract

Sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions. Investigations of the normal sleep–wake cycle showed that immune parameters like numbers of undifferentiated naïve T cells and the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines exhibit peaks during early nocturnal sleep whereas circulating numbers of immune cells with immediate effector functions, like cytotoxic natural killer cells, as well as anti-inflammatory cytokine activity peak during daytime wakefulness. Although it is difficult to entirely dissect the influence of sleep from that of the circadian rhythm, comparisons of the effects of nocturnal sleep with those of 24-h periods of wakefulness suggest that sleep facilitates the extravasation of T cells and their possible redistribution to lymph nodes. Moreover, such studies revealed a selectively enhancing influence of sleep on cytokines promoting the interaction between antigen presenting cells and T helper cells, like interleukin-12. Sleep on the night after experimental vaccinations against hepatitis A produced a strong and persistent increase in the number of antigen-specific Th cells and antibody titres. Together these findings indicate a specific role of sleep in the formation of immunological memory. This role appears to be associated in particular with the stage of slow wave sleep and the accompanying pro-inflammatory endocrine milieu that is hallmarked by high growth hormone and prolactin levels and low cortisol and catecholamine concentrations.

This article is published as part of the Special Issue on Sleep.
Luciana Besedovsky and Tanja Lange contributed equally to this work.