Effects of Sleep on the Immune System

Our immune system is the system in our body responsible for protecting against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. Organs, cells, and proteins make up our immune system, including white blood cells, antibodies, the lymphatic system, and more.

We all want to make sure our immune system is working in tip-top shape, and usually, it is! It is an incredibly complex system, requiring balance and harmony within the body. With that said, it does a great job of protecting us from illness.

Sometimes, foreign invaders can get through our immune system and make us sick. This is common but shouldn’t be the norm. To keep your immune system ready to fight (and win), there are some ways you can support your immune system every day.

Harvard Health recommends the following immune system supporting strategies:

  • Not smoking

  • Alcohol only in moderation if at all

  • Exercise

  • Healthy diet

  • Adequate sleep

  • Hygiene practices

  • Minimize stress

  • Keep up on vaccines

Optimizing the above recommendations allows your body to maintain satisfactory immune system functions. Now, let’s expand on how sleep leads to better sleep (and vice versa)!

Sleep and the Immune System

A study found that sleep and the circadian rhythm regulate the immunological processes. Authors say that prolonged sleep loss and the accompanying stress response lead to inflammation as well as immunodeficiency.

Research shows a significant connection between lack of sleep and stress. Plus, stress can wreak havoc on the body in many ways. Therefore, when considering the relationship between sleep and the immune system, we have to think about the other effects of lack of sleep (stress) and how that also affects the immune system.

On a molecular level, during sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Some of these proteins promote sleep, and others help to fight stress or infection. When sleep decreases, so do the proteins which defend the body.

Sleep also improves the efficiency of T helper cells, which are the bodies “soldiers” fighting the invading bacteria, viruses, etc.

While poor sleep leads to poor immunity, the opposite is also true. Adequate sleep avoids the adverse outcomes of poor sleep while also helping the body do as much as it can to maintain homeostasis and immunity.

Simply put, your body requires sleep to gain and maintain immune system support and avoid stress and subsequent decrease in immune function.

Ten ways to ensure your sleep is supporting your immune system:

  1. Adults should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

  2. Sleep in a quiet, dark location.

  3. Create a morning routine you love and has you feeling refreshed.

  4. Create a nighttime/sleep routine that helps you wind down.

  5. Try white noise to lull you to sleep and keep you asleep through the night.

  6. Use a sunrise alarm instead of the traditional loud beeping alarm.

  7. Get outdoors into the sunshine in the morning and throughout the day.

  8. Avoid artificial light and light from screens within 1-2 hours of bedtime.

  9. If you’re having sleep problems, discuss your concerns with your doctor.

  10. Make changes as you see fit to your sleep environment, temperature, bed, pillows, sleep and wake times, sounds, light, etc.

No Quick Fix for Immunity

As Dr. Suzanne Cassel of Cedars-Sinai says, “You don’t want your immune system stronger, you want it to be balanced.” There are tons of products out there toting magic solutions for immunity and health, but it all boils down to the lifestyle choices you make. Sleep is a huge contributor to immune system balance, along with diet, exercise, and other recommendations we mentioned. Stick to healthy habits, and you’ll be on your way to an immune system ready for every season!