The benefits of sleep for immune function

Posted by Sophie Flohil on

A good night’s sleep is not only good for our beauty, it is for your immune system as well. Research has shown that most of us need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to be at our best 1]. That’s the optimum amount of time to repair, recharge and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit.
But how does sleep affect your immune system? And, perhaps more importantly, what happens to your immune function if you don’t get enough rest?
In this article, we’ll dive in the links between sleep and immunity, as well as looking at some tips for how to get more sleep while supporting your immune system. 
Sleep has two distinct benefits in terms of boosting the immune system:
  1. Getting enough sleep allows the body to produce cytokines. Your body has an army of white blood cells that serve against harmful bacteria and viruses. Cytokines are protective proteins that stimulate and coordinate white blood cell activity to fight infection and inflammation 3]. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines.
  2. When you are sleeping your body produces a master hormone called melatonin, which is an incredibly underestimated hormone, important to the entire body. Melatonin has many benefits, among them is to help prevent certain diseases. Inadequate amounts of sleep or even sleeping with too much light present will decrease your melatonin production which directly lowers immune response.
So, we know that sleep does benefit your immune system. But what happens when you don’t get enough?

Sleep deprivation and the immune system
Sleep deprivation and long periods of poor sleep are associated with lower immune system function and a reduced number of antibodies and killer cells 4]. That means you’re more at risk of falling ill. Studies show that sleep deprived people are more likely to become sick from a common cold virus 5].

Better sleep
For many people, sleeping is a little easier said than done. Around 35% of respondents is a recent research said their sleep is of a “poor” or “only fair” quality 9]. If you’re one of the many who find sleep hard to come by, try these tips to help you get more :
  • Establish a routine. Start winding down an hour before bedtime and write down anything you need to do the next day so it’s off your mind when you hit the sack. Listen to relaxing music, drink chamomile tea.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Recent studies have shown that indoor room light (i.e. <500 lux) can elicit strong melatonin suppression. Put off all lights in the room and try blackout shades or a sleep mask to make your bedroom darker. Also regulate the temperature so that it’s not too warm that you’ll wake up during the night 10]
  • Go to bed at the same time every night. It is best to keep your body clock (circadian rythm) consistent. Even on weekends 11]. 
  • Switch off your computer and cell phone. Bright screens that emit blue light interfere with melatonin production, the sleep hormone that signals your body to shut down 12].
  • Cut the caffeine and stimulants. Coffee and other sources of caffeine are stimulants which remain active for several hours, so try to avoid consuming them after 14.00 / 15.00 PM.
  • Read a book. Rather than staring at blue light emitting screens, a good old book can help you unwind before bed and get your body into a familiar routine. 
  • Avoid alcohol. While you may initially find it easier to nod off after a few drinks, studies show that alcohol can disrupt the later parts of your sleep14].
  • Eat tryptophan rich foods. Eating tryptophan-rich foods during daytime such as bananas, turkey or nuts can promote good sleep 15]. 
  • Relaxxx If you have trouble falling asleep, listen to a Yoga Nidra meditation. Or take deep, slow breaths, concentrating on the gentle rhythm of your chest rising and falling. Train yourself to keep breathing very deeply, very calm while focusing on this process. Or focus on relaxing every inch of your body starting by uncurling your toes, loosening your legs and so on until you feel rested
These tips should help you create a better sleep hygiene routine, with the added benefit of supporting your immune system.

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