To Sleep Is to Heal: How the Immune System Regulates Sleep When Sickness Strikes

On average, a human spends 25 years of their lifetime sleeping. That’s eight hours per day, 56 hours per week, and 2,912 hours per year. Whilst we rest and recharge for the morning ahead, the body and brain are extraordinarily active, embarking on a series of biological processes that restore and rejuvenate. When illness strikes, a visit to the doctors typically results in a prescription for plenty of sleep and rest. Inadequate sleep is known to be hazardous to good health, and can produce symptoms such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and poor mental health

A healthy sleeping pattern is integral for our survival. Yet, whilst we know the value of sleep and invest such a large proportion of our lives doing it, what remains elusive is the precise reasons as to why we do it. 

In a study utilising a fruit fly model, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a single gene, named NEMURI, that increases the need for sleep. Published today in Science, the research shows how the NEMURI protein, an antimicrobial peptide (AMP) fights germs with its inherent antimicrobial activity, and is secreted by cells in the brain to drive prolonged, deep sleep after an infection.