Sleep and Immunity, what’s the verdict?

Sleep and Immunity, what’s the verdict?


By: Phelix Peer


“You got to sleep eight hours every night! You got to sleep less than x number of hours a day.” What the h*** are we supposed to think about sleep and its role in our lives? Yes, we are asleep approximate a third of our lives, but what role does this play in the remaining two-thirds of our lives? With the focus on immunity with the current COVID-19 pandemic, we’d like to re-examine the role sleep plays on our immune systems, and what new and on-going research is showing.

The simplest results shown by recent studies highlighting the link between sleep and your immune system’s response to invasion is that your adaptive immune system, the part of your immune system that adapts to exposure of foreign things, and how your body decides to react to such things.1 The specific mechanism highlighted is how certain T-cells (a specific type of white blood cell) react upon presentation of antigens (a foreign substance your body has come into exposure to) by other cells and create a crucial cascade of events to trigger your immune system into acting.2 A whole range of compounds (i.e. interleukins, cytokines, and various inflammatory and activating proteins) are produced to fight infections once these T-cells deem the antigen to be a threat. For this to happen, these T-cells need experience and need to be primed accordingly, to provide the most effective and adequate response.

Studies looking at the difference between individuals who are sleep deprived and those who’ve had a full night of sleep in a 24-hour window have shown sleep helps regulate and redistribute your cells accordingly1. In logistical terms, this is a re-organization and priming of your immune system so that you are ready to respond adequately. Additionally, sleep also enhances the production of specific proteins such as Interleukin-12 and Interluekin-73,4, which are key players in inducing your body’s adaptive immune response by specific T-cells. These are done via promotion of development of naïve T-cells to memory T-cells (the process by which T-cells learn about new antigens and can respond better and faster, one of the principles behind vaccination).

Additional research looking at vaccination and how sleep versus prolonged wakefulness effects your body’s ability to react and learn about a specific virus was done on the hepatitis A vaccine. Individuals who stayed awake during the night before a vaccination event versus those who slept showed much lower (twofold) response to antigen-specific antibodies after 4 weeks.5 This shows that even a single night of normal sleep can impact how your body can react adequately to infection and build up its adaptive immune system to react to infection.

Many other body processes are impacted by prolonged wakefulness, and these can also impact the immune system via other mechanisms. Your body’s stress biomarkers, recovery promotion, cardiovascular systems, respiratory systems, are all impacted by how you sleep, so make sure you are sleeping!



  1. Besedovsky, Luciana et al. “Sleep and immune function.” Pflugers Archiv : European journal of physiology vol. 463,1 (2012): 121-37. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
  2. Mullington, J M. “Immune Function During Sleep and Sleep Deprivation.” The Neuroscience of Sleep, 2009, pp. 213–217., doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-375073-0.50034-8.
  3. Dimitrov, Stoyan, et al. “Number and Function of Circulating Human Antigen Presenting Cells Regulated by Sleep.” Sleep, vol. 30, no. 4, 2007, pp. 401–411., doi:10.1093/sleep/30.4.401.
  4. Benedict, Christian, et al. “Sleep Enhances Serum Interleukin-7 Concentrations in Humans.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, vol. 21, no. 8, 2007, pp. 1058–1062., doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.04.004.
  5. Lange, Tanja, et al. “Sleep Enhances the Human Antibody Response to Hepatitis A Vaccination.” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 65, no. 5, 2003, pp. 831–835., doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000091382.61178.f1.