A good night's sleep protects against parasites

January 9, 2009,

Animal species that sleep for longer do not suffer as much from parasite infestation and have a greater concentration of immune cells in their blood according to a study published in the open-access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

The question of why we sleep has long puzzled scientists. 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 improves immune function. He says, "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. Similarly, nobody has yet explained why species have evolved such marked variation in their sleep requirements (from 3 to 20 hours a day in mammals). Our research provides new evidence that sleep plays an important role in protecting animals from parasitic infection."

By comparing reported information about mammalian sleep, immune system parameters, and parasitism the authors 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. According to Preston, "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 defenses."

This research may yet have implications for human health. Preston warns, "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."

Article: Parasite resistance and the adaptive significance of sleep, Brian T Preston, Isabella Capellini, Patrick McNamara, Robert A Barton and Charles L Nunn, BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press) www.biomedcentral.com/bmcevolbiol/

Source: BioMed Central

Explore further: Sleeping sickness parasites camouflage themselves with sugar

Related Stories

Sleeping sickness parasites camouflage themselves with sugar

July 10, 2018

It has long been known that the pathogens causing sleeping sickness evade the immune system by exchanging their surface proteins. But now scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) have found an additional parasite ...

A single control center for sleep and wake in the brain

June 12, 2018

Until now, it was thought that multiple brain areas were needed to control sleep and wakefulness. Neuroscientists from Bern have now identified one single control center for the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. The findings ...

Recommended for you

Magnetized inflow accreting to center of Milky Way galaxy

August 17, 2018

Are magnetic fields an important guiding force for gas accreting to a supermassive black hole (SMBH) like the one that our Milky Way galaxy hosts? The role of magnetic fields in gas accretion is little understood, and trying ...

First science with ALMA's highest-frequency capabilities

August 17, 2018

The ALMA telescope in Chile has transformed how we see the universe, showing us otherwise invisible parts of the cosmos. This array of incredibly precise antennas studies a comparatively high-frequency sliver of radio light: ...

Another way for stellar-mass black holes to grow larger

August 17, 2018

A trio of researchers with The University of Hong Kong, Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan and Northwestern University in the U.S., has come up with an alternative theory to explain how some ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.