Posted on Nov 05, 2015, 6 a.m.
Deep sleep may strengthen immunological memories of previously encountered pathogens.
We have known for some time that slow-wave, or deep, sleep, is important for transforming fragile, recently formed memories into stable, long-term memories. Now, neuroscience experts are proposing that deep sleep is also important for strengthening immunological memories. Human studies have shown that long-term increases in memory T cells – cells that help the body recognize a previous infection and therefore quickly respond – are associated with deep slow-wave sleep on the nights after vaccination. "While it has been known for a long time that sleep supports long-term memory formation in the psychological domain, the idea that long-term memory formation is a function of sleep effective in all organismic systems is in our view entirely new," says Jan Born of the University of Tuebingen. He believes that future research should examine what information is selected during sleep for storage in long-term memory, and how this selection is achieved. Born hopes that such studies will be useful in the design of vaccines, which are dependent upon immunological memory: “It is our hope that by comparing the concepts of neuronal and immunological memory, a model of immunological memory can be developed which integrates the available experimental data and serves as a helpful basis for vaccine development."
Westermann et al. System consolidation during sleep – A common principle underlying psychological and immunological memory formation. Trends in Neurosciences. September 2015.