How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009 Mar;10(3):199-210. doi: 10.1038/nrn2576. Epub 2009 Feb 11.


Good sleep is necessary for physical and mental health. For example, sleep loss impairs immune function, and sleep is altered during infection. Immune signalling molecules are present in the healthy brain, where they interact with neurochemical systems to contribute to the regulation of normal sleep. Animal studies have shown that interactions between immune signalling molecules (such as the cytokine interleukin 1) and brain neurochemical systems (such as the serotonin system) are amplified during infection, indicating that these interactions might underlie the changes in sleep that occur during infection. Why should the immune system cause us to sleep differently when we are sick? We propose that the alterations in sleep architecture during infection are exquisitely tailored to support the generation of fever, which in turn imparts survival value.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Fever / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Infections / immunology
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Sleep / physiology*


  • Cytokines
  • Serotonin