Complete, restful sleep may boost not only psychological but also immune system memories, according to latest research.
In an opinion piece published in Trends in Neurosciences on Sept. 29, researchers said that deep sleep may “strengthen immunological memories of previously encountered pathogens” – meaning the immune system can better remember bacterial or viral encounters through creating memory T-cells, which last for months to years and help the body recognize previous infections and respond quickly.
In forming psychological memory, the central nervous system (CNS) interferes in responses to psychological events, forming lasting memories of the relevant physical and social environments. The same is said to be true with the immune system.
“[T]he idea that long-term memory formation is a function of sleep effective in all organismic systems is in our view entirely now,” said senior author Jan Born of the University of Tuebingen in Germany, highlighting the critical role of sleep in biological long-term memory formation.
Memory T-cells are linked to slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) on nights after vaccination. Slow-wave sleep is believed to assist in forming long-term memories of “abstract, generalized information,” leading to better behavioral and immunological responses.
The body is then at risk when one is sleep-deprived.
Born warned, for instance, that if the T-cells did not collect and store gist information, the immune system might target the wrong parts of a pathogen once the virus mutates some parts of its protein.
According to the researchers, the CNS and immune system follow the same principles in forming long-term memory. While these are two different systems, they are believed to share certain common mechanisms and can successfully function through slow-wave sleep.
Born encourages further research on sleep and what information is selected for long-term storage. He suggests its benefits in designing vaccines against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, all “based on immunological memory.”
Previous research has emphasized the far-reaching impact of sleep health and sleeplessness. Researchers of a study published in the journal Sleep, for example, demonstrated that not getting enough sleep could raise the risk of catching a cold.
The team reported that individuals who get only six hours of sleep a night – or less – are four times more likely to catch a cold post-exposure to the virus, compared with those who get seven or more hours of sleep per night.
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