Sleep, immunity, and circadian clocks: a mechanistic model

Gerontology. 2010;56(6):574-80. doi: 10.1159/000281827. Epub 2010 Feb 3.


The lack of sufficient amounts of sleep is a hallmark of modern living, and it is commonly perceived that in the long run this makes us sick. An increasing amount of scientific data indicate that sleep deprivation has detrimental effects on immune function. Conversely, immune responses feedback on sleep phase and architecture. Several studies have investigated the impact of short-term sleep deprivation on different immune parameters, whereas only a few studies have addressed the influence of sleep restriction on the immune system. In many cases, sleep deprivation and restriction impair immune responses by disrupting circadian rhythms at the level of immune cells, which might be a consequence of disrupted endocrine and physiological circadian rhythms. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying the circadian regulation of immunity, but recent studies have suggested that local as well as central circadian clocks drive the rhythms of immune function. In this review, we present a mechanistic model which proposes that sleep (through soluble factors and body temperature) primes immune cells on the one hand, and, on the other hand, provides a timing signal for hematopoietic circadian clocks. We hypothesize that chronic sleep disruption desynchronizes these clocks and, through this mechanism, deregulates immune responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / immunology
  • Circadian Rhythm / immunology
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Hematopoiesis / immunology
  • Hormones / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / pathology*
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Immunity*
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neuroimmunomodulation
  • Sleep Deprivation / immunology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology
  • Sleep* / immunology


  • Hormones