How is Sleep Related to your Immune System?

April 23, 2014

Sick Woman

Even when your warm, soft foam bed begins to call your name in the wee hours of the night, sometimes there’s just no escaping the need to skip sleep and pull an all-nighter. But when it happens too often (and quite frankly for rather unnecessary reasons), it may be affecting your health long-term. We know how our diet and avoiding vices play a huge role in supporting our immune system, but does sleep really have any real effect on our health?

Let’s look first and foremost at the short-term effects lack of sleep gives us. For most of us, sleep is the most wonderful thing in the world because this is the time to relax and recharge. So sleeping late, irregularly, or not at all leaves us groggy, lethargic, and unable to properly perform ordinary tasks for the rest of the day. We get irritable, forgetful, and are unable to think clearly. Caffeine can give us sudden bursts of energy, but will leave us even more tired than before once it wears off. And that’s just after ONE night without quality sleep!

Why does this happen?

During uninterrupted sleep, we go through patterns of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep every 90 minutes or so. Our bodies go into phases for regenerating brain cells, repairing muscles, releasing growth hormones and memory consolidation. This is also when our immune system releases certain antibodies and protective proteins called cytokines to help us fight off infections. The human body is unable to do all these things if it doesn’t get the right quantity and quality of sleep it needs.

With regards to the immune system specifically, the production of antibodies is greatly reduced. Ergo, our body’s defense system is down, leaving us vulnerable to sickness. We become more prone to catching colds or the flu and will have a harder time recovering from it.

It doesn’t end there. Sleep deprivation and a weak immune system will increase stroke and diabetes risk, and quite possibly increase risk for certain types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases as well. A certain study done on rats also indicate that sleep deprivation plays a role in weak bones, or at least rendering the body unable to repair bone damage due to aging. With regards to our tendency to lack focus when sleep deprived, it can also lead to long-term brain deterioration.

Although they also support the immune system, no amount of healthy food and dietary supplements can make up for constant lack of sleep. Siestas are recommended, but in moderation and not in place of nighttime slumber. Being busy and having a lot going on is no excuse to skip sleep, so don’t try to be a hero. Even the strongest soldiers need to recharge!

If you have a hard time falling asleep at night and are unsure of what’s causing it, try a cup of tea or meditation before bedtime. If you suspect that you may have a sleeping disorder, consult the doctor immediately to address the problem. Otherwise, it may just be bad habits or a disruptive environment that’s keeping you up. Also consider the possibility that your bed could no longer be comfortable for you. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a high-quality mattress for high-quality sleep!