Sleep has a direct effect on your immune system. In fact, studies in sleep science have proven that while sleep is important for practically all body systems, it is particularly crucial for the proper functioning of the immune system.
So, why is this important? Your overall health and well-being depend on the function of your immune system: it works to protect against chronic and life-threatening illnesses, heal wounds, and fight against infections. This post will outline how sleep impacts our immunity levels and how sleeping more can strengthen our immune system.
How Does The Immune System Work?
The immune system works by being divided into two main categories: innate immunity and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is a broad level of protection, but adaptive immunity is a defense developed over time and targeted to specific threats.
When working optimally, the immune system can work fast against any threat. When said threat arises, the immune system will trigger a response to help fight it. However, while the immune system must work to fight any illness or danger, it needs to be regulated enough so that it isn’t always on alert mode.
How Does Sleep Affect the Immune System?
Sleep can support and strengthen the immune system. By maintaining a good sleep schedule, your immune system will be well-balanced and feature an adaptive immunity, efficient response time, and less delay in fighting. While you sleep, your adaptive immunity is strengthened. This is the immunity that fights any particular sickness that your body has personally been exposed to.
According to The Sleep Foundation, “The interaction of immune system components during sleep reinforces the immune system’s ability to remember how to recognize and react to dangerous antigens.” Sleep helps strengthen these responses in a similar way that sleep strengthens cognitive learning and memory. But, how does this process work? Let’s explain it here:
- During sleep, muscle activity slows down, which means there’s more energy for the immune system to perform critical tasks.
- Melatonin counteracts any stress caused by these immune reactions taking place.
- The deeper the sleep, the better quality of immune system development and recovery.
Can A Lack of Sleep Make You Sick?
There are many examples of how a lack of sleep could make you feel ill. Sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. However, there are both short-term and long-term effects, but both types can be severe. The short-term effects are:
- The risk of infections is higher in people who get less than six hours of sleep per night.
- There is a higher chance of getting the cold or flu.
- People in ICU may have a harder time recovering from a lack of sleep.
Long-term health issues from lack of sleep include:
- Elevated risk of diabetes
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- A threat of neurodegenerative disease.
What If I’m Used To Less Sleep?
While you might be used to a restricted sleep schedule, multiple sources say that your body is not. Your immune system simply adjusts to a lower level of functionality, and this low-grade inflammation could potentially become chronic and cause long-term health issues.
How Can I Improve My Sleep and Strengthen My Immune System?
A good night’s sleep is critical for optimal immune strength. Therefore, one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system is a better night’s sleep. By practicing good sleep hygiene and improving the quality and duration of sleep, your immune system will start to improve.
The immune system and good quality sleep are inherently linked. By getting a good night’s sleep, you are helping your immune system to be strong and have adaptive immunity. If you are struggling with your immunity and find yourself susceptible to lots of sickness and illnesses, try improving your sleep schedule.