We are all concerned with boosting our immune systems right now, and did you know sleep can play a very important role in this?
How Sleep and Immunity Affect One Another
Sleep is an important process that regulates the body’s physiological processes and promotes recovery. During an illness, sleep patterns commonly change and can lead to reduced, disrupted, or even improved sleep.1 Besides the obvious that we feel tired when we do not sleep enough, other physiological processes are also negatively affected in the body. When the immune system is stimulated, an inflammatory response is triggered, and sleep duration usually increases.1 Other symptoms of fatigue, poor mood, increased sensitivity to pain, and decreased appetite follow as a response from the central nervous system.1 Although not very fun, these symptoms can actually help begin the healing process in the body to conserve energy and instead promote recovery.1
What Happens if We are Not Sleeping Enough?
The immune response is regulated by our sleep cycle, and inflammatory mediators can increase when sleep is decreased.1 The duration and quality of sleep are linked to the body’s response to inflammation. Therefore, increased sleep loss can weaken the body’s immune system which makes us more susceptible to infection.1
What Does the Research Say?
Cytokines are proteins secreted by cells of the immune system, and they help regulate immunity.2,3 In cases of sleep loss related to insomnia, alcoholism, stress, and during a period of aging, pro-inflammatory cytokines were enhanced, meaning the body had an increased response to inflammation.2 Hormone levels such as cortisol (plays an important role in the body’s response to stress) also fluctuated in the morning after sleep loss.2 Sleep not only impacts acute infection (cold, flu, etc.) but also is involved the body’s response to allergies and more chronic diseases such as cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurodegenerative disease, cancer, and other forms of chronic pain.2 Addressing the issue of sleep is very important in the treatment of these issues.
How Much Sleep Do We Need to Boost Our Immune System?
We all know that it is ideal to sleep 7-8 hours per night, and this continues to be true to best support the body’s immune system.4 If you are not able to hit the goal of 8 hours, naps can be beneficial to help boost immunity.4 A thirty-minute nap in the morning or evening (or both!) can still benefit the body’s immune system and make-up for missed sleep by reversing some of the negative effects that result from sleep deprivation.4
Tips to Improve Sleep
Creating a “sleep routine” can be very beneficial to improve sleep quality. Just as you have your routine in the morning, establish a couple simple steps that help you wind down for the night. One important step could be to try to stay off your phone directly before bed and even consider putting it in a separate room at night so that it is not a distraction. The main goal is to lower stress, wind down, and create and environment and mindset for restful sleep. Some ideas could include meditation, prayer, stretching, listening to calm music, or even making some decaffeinated tea. Sleep supplements can also be beneficial to help promote a restful state and ensure good sleep. Quality sleep is so important and implementing a few simple steps can make a huge difference in your overall health and immunity!