Good night’s sleep boosts immunity, protects against parasites

January 11th, 2009 - 3:53 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 11 (IANS) A sound sleep boosts immunity and protects against parasite infestation, according to a study. Brian Preston from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led an international team of researchers who tested the theory that sleep boosts immunity.

“Sleep is a biological enigma. Despite occupying much of an animal’s life, and having been scrutinized by numerous experimental studies, there is still no consensus on its function,” he said.

“Similarly, nobody has yet explained why species have evolved such marked variation in their sleep requirements (from three to 20 hours daily in mammals). Our research provides new evidence that sleep plays an important role in protecting animals from parasitic infection,” added Preston.

By comparing reported information about mammalian sleep, immune system parameters, and parasitism, the authors of the study show that evolutionary increases in mammalian sleep durations are strongly associated with the number of circulating immune cells.

Mammalian species that sleep for longer periods also have substantially reduced levels of parasitic infection, said a Max Planck release.

“We suggest that sleep fuels the immune system. While awake, animals must be ready to meet multiple demands on a limited energy supply, including the need to search for food, acquire mates, and provide parental care. When asleep, animals largely avoid these costly activities, and can thus allocate resources to the body’s natural defences,” said Preston.

This research may yet have implications for human health. Preston warned that “given the declines in human sleep durations that have occurred over the past few decades, there is a clear need for studies that further clarify the immunological significance of sleep.”

These findings were published in the open-access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

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