THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SLEEP & IMMUNITY
Sleep and immunity are both vital functions of the body. We can’t survive without sleep. We certainly can’t survive without immunity. While these two are separate functions, there is some underlying linkage between the two. By ensuring good sleep, you may be able to give your body’s immunity a healthy boost. Here’s a detailed look at this.
Immunity is your body’s ability to defend itself against invading pathogens (disease-causing microbes) using its biological defenses, while also having sufficient tolerance to avoid allergies and autoimmune disorders.
We all know sleep is an essential part of our life but most of us can’t quite define it. We may sleep anywhere between 6 to 12 hours a day as routine but once asleep, we lose most of our sensory awareness.
From a scientific point of view, we can define sleep as a natural state of altered consciousness linked to the body’s circadian rhythm (daily cycle linked to light and darkness in the outer environment) wherein the body and some parts of mind have reduced sensory and muscle activity.
How Sleep Affects Immunity
We all know that lack of adequate sleep, or bad quality of sleep, can play havoc with how we think and behave. Most of us also realize that when sleep is consistently unsatisfactory, we tend to fall ill often or feel unwell or recover slowly from an illness. Why is it so?
It is so because sleep has a definite connection with the immune system. People who don’t get adequate or satisfactory sleep often suffer from lowered immunity. In other words, bad sleep can actually make you more susceptible to illnesses, and it can also prolong healing periods. The lack of sleep – cold/flu link is well established. Lack of sleep and chronic insomnia are also linked to a higher risk of weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac disorders.
What’s the Link between Immunity & Sleep
When we are asleep, the immune system stays active. It produces and releases a large group of proteins called cytokines. These proteins work as signaling molecules that mediate and regulate body responses such as immunity, inflammation, and sleep.
In states of infections, inflammation and/or stress, some types of protective cytokines are secreted in larger quantities to help the body heal. When you are sleep deprived, these cytokines may not be made in sufficient quantities that may further affect recovery. Another negative effect of inadequate sleep has that immune cells that would otherwise fight pathogens may also be less than needed.
In other words, if you have insomnia i.e. you aren’t sleeping enough or if your quality of sleep is not good, your body becomes:
- More susceptible to infections and inflammation
- Takes longer periods to recover from illnesses
How Much Sleep do You Need for Healthy Immunity
There are two factors to healthy sleep: duration and quality.
As a rule of thumb, adults need 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night. Teens need 9 to 10 hours, and younger children may require 10+ hours on a daily basis.
In sleeping, more isn’t always better. Excessive sleep in adults (9-10 hours) can actually mean poor quality of sleep as it can lead to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep which can be counterproductive for immunity. Do let your kids sleep longer than you yourself do though. They actually need more sleep!
Why Can’t we Sleep Well
There can be many reasons behind inadequate and/or unsatisfactory sleep.
Sometimes these factors are temporary, such as jet lag, minor stress over the important upcoming events, temporary anger, simply short term ailments such as flu or cold or headache or toothache.
Consistently inadequate and/or unsatisfactory sleep i.e. chronic insomnia is often connected to physical or psychological reasons.
Some common reasons behind chronic insomnia are:
Psychological ailments such as anxiety, depression, long term work stress, unresolved grief, trauma, or more serious issues such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Physical illnesses such as allergies, Parkinson’s, arthritis, gastric ulcers, kidney problems or any other painful condition.
How to Tackle Sleep Deprivation
- Create a peaceful sleeping environment. A quiet, clutter-free and dark bedroom with optimal room temperature and airflow, comfortable bedding and clean linen, all help.
- Create a soothing bedtime routine. Turn off devices. Switch off from social media. Take a shower. Wear comfy sleepwear. Spend some minutes in prayer or meditation. This will signal your brain to switch to sleep mode when done as a routine.
- Stick to regular bedtimes. Oversleeping in the morning can lead to an inability to sleep later that day. Tough as it may be, bring your body to its natural circadian rhythm patterns of sleep.
- If your schedule doesn’t allow for adequate sleep, take siestas (post-lunch 20 min nap). You could do this before dinner too. Sleep extra on weekends to catch up with the sleep deficit.
When to Consult a Doctor for Insomnia
Please consult a doctor in the following circumstances of insomnia:
- When insomnia persists for more than four weeks and interferes with your ability to perform day-to-day jobs
- When you regularly wake up in the night gasping for breath (this can indicate sleep apnoea, a serious disorder)
- If you have an underlying psychiatric or medical condition interfering with your sleep
- If you have gone without sleep for 72 hours at a stretch
Benefits of Good Sleep in Other Areas of Life
Good sleep is essential for healthy immunity and wellness, as:
- It refreshes your body and mind.
- It helps boost your productivity, inculcates a sense of well being.
- It helps your body carry out its biological functions with efficiency, and that in turn, protects you from ailments.
Sleep and immunity are both vital for healthy existence at physical and psychological levels. Good sleep enhances immune function and that in turn helps the body fight off ailments and disorders more effectively. Restful sleep helps you stay more alert during waking hours. Good quality sleep also helps relieve stress and reduces the risk of stress-related psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression.
In short; anyone who is health-conscious should ensure adequate and restful sleep on a regular basis.