The interior of a blood vessel with red blood cells and white blood cells, which are part of the immune system.

How does sleep affect the immune system?

A good night’s rest does more than make you feel refreshed in the morning. It keeps your body healthy. That is why sleep is part of living a long life. Scientists have found this statement to be more and more true over the years. In fact, a study has discovered that sleep affects the immune system in a rather interesting fashion.

How the Immune System Operates During Sleep

T cells are perhaps one of the most important aspects of the immune system. These white blood cells attack viruses and protect the body from any other harmful invaders. With sleep being an important part of health, researchers dove deep into finding out how a lack of sleep affects the body.

They started by testing how the immune system reacts to sleep deprivation by studying the “sleep-wake” of fourteen young males. The men participated in two separate studies. One study monitored the participants over 24 hours, allowing them to sleep between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., giving them the 7 to 8 hours of sleep recommended by the CDC. The other study kept the gentlemen awake for 24 hours straight.

Their study resulted in some surprising insights. After testing the blood of the volunteers during both studies, they found that the immune system’s t cells were reduced when patients went to sleep. On the opposite end, when the volunteers stayed awake for more than 24 hours, a high number of t cells remained in their body.

There are some theories as to why the t cells react like this during sleep. The chances of infection are fairly low during sleep. So perhaps the body reduces the amount it produces so that it has a chance to replenish the t cells during sleep. As for the high counts of t cells in patients that are awake, it could be that their risk of infection is much greater. This could cause these white blood cells to remain in the body as an added form of protection.