Researchers say adequate sleep helps T cells in your body fight off infection.

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Inadequate sleep has been linked to a number of health problems, including heart disease. Getty Images

If you needed another reason to get a good sleep, this might be it.

Sleep helps the immune system.

Numerous studies have reported the benefits of a good night’s sleep, and now researchers from Germany have found that sound sleep improves immune cells known as T cells.

“T cells are a type of… immune cells that fight against intracellular pathogens, for example virus-infected cells such as flu, HIV, herpes, and cancer cells,” Stoyan Dimitrov, PhD, a researcher at the University of Tübingen and an author of the study, told Healthline.

The study found a new mechanism through which sleep can assist the immune system.

“We show that the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline (also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine) and pro-inflammatory molecules prostaglandins inhibit the stickiness of a class of adhesion molecules called integrins,” Dr. Dimitrov said. “Because the levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and prostaglandins are low during sleep time, the stickiness of the integrins is stronger. This stickiness is important because in order for T cells to kill virus-infected cells or cancer cells, they need to get in direct contact with them, and the integrin stickiness is known to promote this contact.”

T cells play an important role in the body’s immune system.

When cells in the body recognize a virally infected cell, they activate integrins, a sticky type of protein, that then allows them to attach to and kill infected cells.

The researchers compared T cells from healthy volunteers who either slept or stayed awake all night.

They found that in the study participants who slept, their T cells showed higher levels of integrin activation than in the T cells of those who were awake.

The findings indicate that sleep has the potential to improve T cell functioning. For people who get poor sleep, stress hormones may inhibit the ability of T cells to function as effectively.

“Stress hormones dip while the body is asleep. High levels of these substances might decrease the efficiency of T cell immune response to kill pathogens,” Dimitrov said.

Adults need a minimum of seven hours sleep every night for improved health and well-being.

In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that more than one-third of Americans weren’t getting enough sleep.

Kimberley Hardin, MD, director of the sleep medicine fellowship program at the University of California Davis, says many people take good sleep for granted.

“People underestimate the importance of sleep, and less than seven hours per night on a regular basis has negative effects. It essentially creates a fight-or-flight state, with increased stress hormones and release of adrenaline,” she told Healthline.

“Sleep is like anything else in the body,” Dr. Hardin said. “It’s a natural state and has to be taken care of to be healthy. Sleep should leave you feeling refreshed, not groggy and struggling. Realistic expectations are essential. And sleep changes as you age, so you may not feel as rested as you did when you were a younger.”

Less than five hours sleep per night on a regular basis is associated with higher mortality, and having less than seven hours sleep for three nights in a row has the same effect on the body as missing one full night of sleep.

And poor sleep can have both short-term and long-term health consequences.

“Bad sleep can result in long-term problems with mood, memory, and blood sugar, among other things,” Suzanne Stevens, MD, a sleep neurologist at the University of Kansas Health System, told Healthline. “Short-term consequences of bad sleep may include sleepiness, poor judgment, car accidents, moodiness, memory problems, workplace mistakes, and more. Chronic poor sleep affects not only the ability to function well the next day, but the sleep deficit builds up the longer sleep isn’t good.”

Inside the body, chronically bad sleep can cause problems.

Poor sleep can increase inflammation, blood pressure, insulin resistance, cortisol, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease, as well as decrease blood sugar regulation.

A good night’s sleep is also thought to be protective against heart disease. A 2019 study in mice found a connection between the brain, bone marrow, and blood vessels that protects against hardening of the arteries. This mechanism only took place in mice who had a good quality sleep.

Researchers are hopeful that an understanding of the link between sleep and cardiovascular health will pave the way for new treatment options.

Despite numerous studies proving the negative health impacts of poor sleep, experts say many people still don’t prioritize getting enough sleep.

“People have to honestly reflect on the amount of sleep they’re getting because a lot of the problems are voluntarily induced, and they just need to decide to prioritize an adequate night’s sleep,” Eric Olson, MD, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Healthline.

Having a comfortable, dark, cool bedroom environment and eliminating distractions from electronic devices, pets, or a snoring bed partner is key,” he said. “And exercise can promote better quality sleep. Watching how much alcohol and caffeine you consume is important, too.”

“Good sleep must be a priority because there’s so much going on in our worlds,” Dr. Olson said, “that unless you consciously decide you’re going to make enough time for sleep, it’s just not going to happen.”

Researchers say getting good sleep can strengthen your immune system.

In a recent study, scientists say they discovered that quality sleep can bolster the T cells in your body that fight off infection.

Good sleep does this by enhancing the ability of T cells to adhere to and destroy cells infected by viruses and other pathogens.

Researchers say there are short-term and long-term health problems associated with poor sleep.