Over the past few decades, countless research studies and scientific experiments have been conducted to study the relationship between immunity and sleep. The world today knows that the strength of our immune system is closely related to the quality of sleep because it affects our entire body system. Regardless of the level of your physical activity throughout the day or the type of work you do, every person needs rest (though some may require more than others).
Before we try to understand the relation between sleep and immunity, let’s first answer a few questions such as: What does our immune system really do? Why is it so important that you hear every other medical practitioner talk about it?
What is Immunity?
Our immune system governs many things, from our body's defense system that prevents viral attacks from succeeding to fighting diseases if we get one. It also improves itself to prevent or fight future attacks. The immune system is a network that runs through our whole body and houses multiple layers of defense components which may be categorized as ‘innate immunity’ and ‘adaptive immunity’'. The former is the multi-layered defense system that we have, while the latter is its ability to adapt, improve and overcome. This defense system also comprises white blood cells or ‘leukocytes’. Their job includes identification of foreign pathogens, attacking them and removing them from our bodies. This reaction is both innate as well as adaptive. Fatigue, fever, pain, inflammation, bruising, etc. are all the works of our immune system; the stronger your immune system the more optimum will be the reaction.
Relation Between Sleep and Immunity
Immunity and sleep have a two-way relationship. They are interrelated and influence each other, for instance an immune response to a viral infection can affect your sleep duration or quality. On the other hand, consistent uninterrupted sleep may strengthen your immunity and result in a balanced immune system. Constant sleep deprivation can weaken it both in the short as well as long term. Your immune system derives its essential support from your sleeping pattern. Getting the required hours of good-quality sleep will eventually establish a well-balanced defense system with strong adaptive and innate immunity. It will increase the effectiveness of vaccines and reduce the frequency and intensity of allergic reactions. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) disruption will interfere with your immune system and may result in serious physiological and psychological issues. High quality sleep increases the production of cytokines which is associated with soreness/inflammation. This is dependent on sleep and the circadian rhythm (body’s natural clock).
Sleep is also linked to the immune ‘memory’. When we sleep the various components of our immune system interact with each other and reinforce its ability to memorize the recognition and reactions to antigens. It is not known with certainty why this activity takes place when you sleep but several theories have been presented some of which are mentioned below.➛ During sleep, you're breathing and your muscle activity slows down; this frees up energy which the immune system uses to perform these important tasks.
➛ Inflammation that occurs during sleep can have serious effects on your physical and mental performance if this activity occurs when you are awake.
➛ Melatonin is produced during the night and counteracts the stress caused by inflammation while you are asleep.
Sleep and the Effectiveness of Vaccines
Research has proven that the effectiveness of vaccines improves if your sleep quality is good. Vaccines introduce a deactivated antigen into the body in order to trigger a response. Immunizations basically train your immune system to recognize and attack that antigen.
Sleep and Allergies
Allergies are the overreaction of our immune system to things that are not really harmful. There is credible evidence that links allergies to sleep. Our circadian rhythm regulates our body's response to allergens but when this circadian rhythm is not working properly it will increase the occurrence as well as the intensity of allergies. On the other hand, inadequate or low-quality sleep will also make allergies stronger.
Sleep deprivation can have serious health effects. There is substantial evidence that it can disrupt your immune system and make you more prone to diseases. Insufficient sleep is now connected to short term as well as long term health disorders such as cardiac issues and diabetes. The risk of infections in people who get less than 6-7 hours of sleep every night has been found to be much higher than those who sleep for 8-10 hours.
How Does the Immune System Affect Sleep?
Where sleep influences our immune system, the system too affects your sleep in numerous ways. Infections trigger numerous responses from the immune system such as energy shortage, sleepiness, etc. The sleeping pattern also changes when faced with certain infections, changing the time a person spends in a particular sleep phase. For example, the deep sleep stage involves greater slowing down of metabolism and other bodily processes, giving the immune system more energy to spare.
Tips for Improving Sleep and Strengthening Your Immune System➛ Make it a priority to get an adequate amount of high-quality uninterrupted sleep regularly.
➛ Keep your sleeping patterns fixed so that your circadian rhythm is not disturbed.
➛ Take a shower with lukewarm water before going to sleep.
➛ Improve your sleeping environment. The bedding should be comfortable and the lights in your room should not be that bright.
➛ Do not look at the TV or cell phone close to bedtime. There should be a gap of at least 2 hours.
➛ Use nightwear made from breathable fabrics such as cotton or linen.
➛ Use high quality bed sheets and high-quality blankets.
➛ Use an appropriate pillow that aligns your neck and your spinal cord.
➛ Avoid drinks with a high level of caffeine near or at bedtime.
➛ Avoid drinking alcohol right before sleeping otherwise you might wake up in the middle of the night.
➛ Do not consume heavy meals near or at bedtime.
➛ If your body feels constantly stressed, use special massage tools such as a foot massager or a massage gun before going to sleep.
➛ Use weighted blankets such as Quility weighted blankets which provide regular stimulation.
➛ Make exercise a regular part of your everyday routine. It is a known fact that people who workout regularly enjoy a much better sleep quality than those who don’t.
➛ People between the ages of 26 to 64 years should sleep for at least 7-9 hours every day. Those between the ages of 18-25 should sleep for at least 8-10 hours. The adequate sleep hours are also dependent on the level of your physical activity.
➛ Consume a healthy diet full of rich and balanced nutrients.
➛ If you are having serious trouble sleeping, try consuming a supplement such as melatonin. Other supplements such as ginkgo biloba, lavender, valerian root and magnesium can also be helpful.
➛ Try to relax and let go of your worries at the end of the day. Anxiety, stress and depression can disrupt your sleep quality which would in turn aggravate anxiety, resulting in a vicious cycle that does not seem to end.