Sleep and Your Immunity

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Sleep impacts immunity

Staying healthy is on everyone’s mind these days, and while sleep is certainly not an overnight cure for any disease, it is worth knowing how it impacts your immune system.

Understanding The Immune System

There are multiple components that make up the immune system. One of those are leukocytes (white blood cells). Their job is to identify, attack, and then remove foreign pathogens from our bodies. Once they identify a foreign pathogen leukocytes release cytokines, proteins that act as messages for the immune system telling other white blood cells to act. The way the immune system reacts to these foreign pathogens is both innate (immediate) and adaptive (learned). Together they make it possible for us to safely live in and interact with our environment in day-to-day life. If the immune system is functioning properly, it is able to maintain a balance. When a threat arises it allows the body to set off a response such as fatigue, fever, inflammation, or pain. This also means that the body does not always have to be in attack mode. Therefore it is important for the immune system to be strong and healthy.

Sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu, make recovery slower, and amplify existing illnesses.

How Does Sleep Affect Your Immunity?

Sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu, make recovery slower, and amplify existing illnesses.

T Cells – T cells activate integrins, or sticky protein, that allows T cells to attack and kill infected cells. Researchers at the University of Tübingen found that study participants who slept more showed higher levels of integrin activation in their T cells, indicating that poor sleep can cause higher levels of stress hormones, inhibiting the ability for T cells to function as effectively. Researcher Dr. Stoyan Dimitrov stated, "Stress hormones dip while the body is asleep. High levels of these substances might decrease the efficiency of T cell immune response to kill pathogens."

Cytokines Production – During sleep, the body produces infection-fighting antibodies and cytokines. It uses these substances to fight off foreign bacteria and viruses. Without sleep, the body is not able to produce as many and therefore not able to fight off foreign pathogens as well.

Other Ways Sleep Helps

  • Sleep slows down breathing and muscle activity. This frees up energy for the immune system to use to perform critical tasks.
  • Inflammation that occurs while you sleep could potentially harm mental and physical performance while you’re awake. Therefore the body adapts to unfold these processes during sleep.
  • Melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, is capable of counteracting stress that can result from inflammation at night.

Sleep + Immunity Go Hand-In-Hand

While sleep can affect the immune system, the immune system can also affect sleep. For example, infections can set off multiple responses from the immune system, one of which is a lack of energy. This is partly why people who are sick often spend a lot of time sleeping and in bed. How you sleep is affected as well. During infection, the amount of time spent in different sleep stages changes. More specifically, the immune system responds by inducing more time in stage 3 of sleep, NREM or deep sleep. NREM involves greater slowing down of your bodily process so that your body can use more energy to fight off infection.

How Can You Improve Sleep and Your Immune System?

First and foremost, getting quality, uninterrupted sleep every night can help to strengthen your immune system. Improving sleep begins by focusing on your habits, routine and sleep environment. Steps that can be taken include keeping a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding cell phone/computer use in bed and having a nighttime routine that tells your body it’s time for bed.


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