How Does Sleep Affect Your Immunity?
An adequate amount of sleep is vital to a properly functioning immune system. Unfortunately, given the pressures of our work and social lives, not many of us get the right amount of sleep every day.
In this article, we’ll be looking at how sleep affects your immune system, what the consequences of not sleeping properly are, and exactly how much sleep you need.
What Happens If You Don’t Sleep
There are a huge range of reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep. Stress, improper diet, poor circadian rhythm, and even medical conditions like insomnia can prevent you from getting a good night’s rest.
If you’ve not had enough sleep, the short term symptoms can include:
- Feeling tired throughout the day
- Being easily irritated
- Having problems in focussing on a single task
- Issues memorizing and recalling information
The long-term implications of sleep deprivation are much more severe, however. Long-term lack of sleep may increase a person’s risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. It can increase the body’s susceptibility to infection and hamper the ability to fight the illness.
Not getting enough sleep can also depress your immune response.
Sleep Deprivation and Immunity
Chronic sleep loss poses a potential risk to the immune system. Our bodies are controlled by what are known as circadian rhythms. The word itself means “day around” in Latin and is the natural process that controls the human sleep/wake cycle.
When we sleep, our body releases cytokines, which are essential for the regulation of the immune system. The body needs to release more of these cytokines when we are under significant stress or our bodies are being attacked by a pathogen.
Since cytokines are released during sleep, not having enough rest compromises your immune system.
Research by the National Sleep Foundation, the white blood cell counts of 15 subjects under normal and severely sleep-deprived conditions. Analysis of the results showed a significant decreased in the number of white blood cells known as granulocytes in the sleep-deprived subjects.
How Much Sleep Should We Be Having?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep ranges:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
- School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65years and above): 7-8 hours
Can Good Sleep Improve Immunity?
Just as not getting enough sleep can depress your immune system, getting a good night’s rest can improve it.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the presence of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and pro-inflammatory molecules like prostaglandins prevented white blood cells from bonding with a protein called integrin.
Integrin helps T cells to bind with the foreign antigens and ultimately destroy it. Since the level of these stress hormones and prostaglandins decreases during sleep, good sleep boosts the efficiency of T cells and improves the immune response of the body.
How Can I Improve My Sleep Cycle
The best way to improve your sleep is to improve the quality of your sleep hygiene. Try sleeping in a comfortable and dark, cold environment, and eliminating electronics at night. Most electronics emit a spectrum of blue light that can keep you awake.
Other steps you can take include exercising regularly avoiding alcohol and caffeine to help improve your sleep quality.
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Amanda Beardsley, C.M.A.
Medical Assisting Program Chair