When you ask experts for advice on improving your overall health, chances are you’ll get “adequate sleep” as a common answer. Sleep is a necessary function that helps your body stay healthy. Like most functions of the body, the immune system is closely tied to sleep.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important functions of the human body. While scientists have yet to understand every advantage, its benefits and functions are well-documented.
When you go to sleep, your brain and body go to work. The body repairs itself and creates the necessary hormones for different body functions. Meanwhile, the brain organizes memories and maintains pathways in the brain necessary to create new ones.
Sleep also aids in protecting your body from illness and infection. It is one of the many things you can do to boost your immune system and protect yourself from diseases.
The Immune System and Sleep
Your immune system is your frontline defense against pathogens. It’s essential to keeping you alive and healthy. When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system is compromised, exposing you to bacteria, viruses, parasites and other pathogens.
Your immune system needs sleep to help it recover and produce the necessary chemicals, hormones and proteins to keep it working.
However, many people don’t get enough sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans are sleep-deprived. Many people are susceptible to infections when lack of sleep has weakened their immune system.
You could be one of those people. When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? Do you regularly get the recommended amount of rest?
How Sleep Can Help Immune Health
If you’ve been sleep-deprived lately, you might notice your health isn’t in the best state. Here’s why getting adequate sleep can help your immune system and keep you healthy.
During deep sleep, your body produces proteins called cytokines. These proteins help regulate your body’s immune and inflammation responses. Thus, getting enough sleep can help strengthen adaptive immunity or your body’s ability to detect, fight and remember antigens.
When you don’t sleep enough, your body produces fewer cytokines, negatively impacting your immunity.
T Cell Function
T cells, a type of white blood cell, are crucial to your body’s defenses. They fight off foreign bodies to help prevent infection. When T cells recognize a threat, they activate integrins. These sticky proteins help T cells attach to the infected cells and destroy them.
Stress hormones, which are present when you are awake, can decrease the stickiness of integrins, making it difficult for T cells to stick to pathogens and kill them. However, when you are asleep, your stress hormones are lower, increasing the adhesive power of integrins.
Thus, getting the right amount of sleep can maintain proper T cell function.
Research shows that changes to one’s sleep patterns can make allergic reactions stronger and more likely to occur. Allergies can create a harmful cycle. Those with hay fever or allergic rhinitis reported nasal congestion, sneezing and other symptoms that lead to sleep deprivation and even insomnia. This lack of sleep, in turn, aggravates allergies and causes stronger allergic responses.
To break this cycle, keep the air in your room clean by using air purifiers and closing windows. Eliminate dust and other allergens in your room, and take all necessary medications. Most of all, try different methods to get enough sleep every night to help reduce your allergic symptoms.
Getting quality sleep can decrease your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone. Research shows that excess cortisol can negatively affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and diseases.
When you are stressed, your body releases certain kinds of cells to “address the threat.” These cells cause a temporary inflammatory response. However, when you’re always stressed, this inflammation becomes regular and can negatively impact your immune system.
Stress can also decrease your lymphocytes, which are necessary for your immune system to fight antigens like viruses and bacteria. That’s why you’ll notice you can easily catch the common cold when stressed.
In managing stress, having adequate downtime is crucial. Just as children benefit from periods of rest and relaxation, adults also need these moments of respite to manage stress effectively and maintain a robust immune system.
Immune Memory Improvement
Immune memory is your body’s ability to recognize and respond to illnesses it’s encountered before. For instance, when you get chicken pox for the first time, you are unlikely to experience it again a second time. The same principle applies to vaccinations. Getting vaccinated exposes you to certain pathogens, eliciting an immune response and creating a “memory” for your immune system.
Your immune memory is crucial to keeping you safe from illnesses. A review found that lack of sleep can impair the body’s ability to create immune memories. Getting a good night’s sleep is a must to help your immune system remember diseases and protect you better.
The immune system produces antibodies, which are proteins that respond to foreign substances that can threaten your health. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces less antibodies.
A recent study showed that getting less than six hours of sleep before vaccination reduces the immune system’s antibody response. This means that vaccines lose effectiveness when you’re sleep-deprived. The study points out that the drop in vaccine efficacy is similar to how the Coronavirus vaccine loses effectiveness after a two-month period.
A study showed that continuous sleep deprivation can lead to a 50% decrease in antibody response to the influenza vaccine. Before you get a shot, make sure to get more than six hours of sleep beforehand.
Get Sleep to Protect from Illness
Sleep is vital to keeping good health. However, many people still give up sleep for work or leisure. The world we live in isn’t conducive to rest. People are encouraged to do more and to squeeze more out of their 24 hours. To maintain good health, you must slow down and prioritize getting enough sleep. Doing so can help the immune system do what it does best — protect you.