Healthy Sleep

How Does Sleep Affect Our Immune System

The easiest way for our body to recover on its own is through sleeping. Having a good night's sleep is vital in ensuring that our body's ability to heal is occurring.

Unfortunately, a lot of people experience sleep deprivation for various reasons. Not having enough sleep has been tied to negative impacts on our immune function.

In this article, we discuss how the lack of sleep can affect our immune system and how quality sleep can help us recover better.

How much sleep do you need?

For your circadian rhythm to normalise, you should have at least 8 hours of sleep - preferably beginning in the evening and ending in the morning.

It is only when you're well-rested that you fully experience the restorative effects of sleep.

Sleep patterns may vary from person-to-person, and you should find the right amount that helps you recover your energy for the day.

What happens if I don't sleep enough?

A simple answer is that your immune response won't function as well as when you have good, adequate sleep.

During sleep, our body produces cytokines - a type of protein that wards off infections and heals inflammation, or in other words, our immune response.

The cytokines work together with helper T-cells to fight off other cells that are infected. The T-cells are then redistributed to our lymph nodes as we sleep.

If your sleep duration is constantly lacking, your body produces fewer T-cells and cytokines. Likewise, poor sleep is also tied to a decrease in white blood cell production.

With the decrease in immune cells, your body will not be able to produce enough defences to fight off infectious diseases.

The benefits of sleeping on your immune system

During your hours of wakefulness, your immune system is often interrupted by other physiological tasks such as motor movement, breathing, digestion, and brain function.

When you are in a deep sleep, your body tends to relax more than usual as there not many body functions occurring apart from your breathing.

Your immune system consumes a lot of energy, and having the exclusive use of your energy reserves can better drive your innate immune system.

What your immune system does during sleep

As mentioned earlier, your immune system is most active when you are sleeping. Your immune cells go into overdrive fighting off contaminants that can give you things like flu or the common colds.

One of the essential lines of defence is to increase your body temperature. An increase in body temperature creates an environment where pathogens or contaminants find it harder to thrive.

Considering that increasing your body heat consumes a lot of energy, this process usually occurs more when you are in a sleeping state rather than your hours of wakefulness.

When your immune system is hard at work, it lessens the priority of REM sleep during your sleep cycles. This turns off your body's regulation of heat, allowing your system to simulate a fever.

T-cells are shown to be more active at night, and together with cytokines that are produced and released during sleep, your body's defence systems are activated as you sleep.

The other things sleep deprivation does to your body

Poor sleep quality is tied to an increased risk of heart disease as sleep deprivation can cause elevations in blood pressure.

Likewise, people who experience sleep loss are more prone to obesity, which can also affect their cardiovascular health.

Obesity due to lack of sleep is traced to the reduced production of leptin, which is the enzyme that tells your brain that your appetite is satiated.

Sleep disruption can also lead to increased ghrelin production, which is an enzyme that tells your brain that you are hungry.

Such effects of leptin and ghrelin can lead to unusual eating habits that aren't only risk factors for heart disease, but also diabetes.

Sleep might sound like a simple process that your body goes through, but lacking sleep can really affect a lot of your body's physiological processes.

What can proper sleep habits do for you?

Good sleep leads to good health

When you sleep for durations closer to the suggested amount of sleeping time, your body is more efficient in restoring itself.

Studies suggest that having enough hours of sleep consistently can help lower blood pressure and glucose levels, which in turn lowers risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.

More sleep equates to fewer stress hormones

Generally speaking, the less sleep you get, the more stress hormones you produce. 

By practising good sleeping patterns, your body wards off stress more effectively.

Stress hormones are also tied to the production of your T-cells. From here, we can identify that not only can sleep deprivation stress you out, it may also inhibit your defences from stress.

I have a sleep disorder, can this affect my immunity?

Sleeping disorders like chronic sleep loss, insomnia, sleep apnea, and others can significantly affect your general health and immune system.

It's best to identify your causes primarily by observing your own sleep patterns or visiting a sleep specialist.

Your doctor may prescribe some sleep medicine to aid your sleep deprivation. 

In milder cases, you might be prescribed a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is the same enzyme that your pineal gland produces that puts your body to sleep.

What are some other things that I can do to get better sleep?

Sometimes a medical route isn't outright necessary, and the lack of sleep can be blamed on your own sleeping environment and conditions.

Being in a cool, dark, quiet environment alone can already induce sleepiness. You can get an even better sleep when you have the right mattress and pillows that provide you with the best comfort.

Final thoughts

It's clear to see that sleep does wonders on the human body; not only is sleep restorative, it also enables your system to defend against pathogens.

Ensure that you get enough sleep every day, and your immune system will surely thank you for it!