How does sleep impact your immune system?
Sleep and immunity have a bidirectional relationship, and the quality of each can help (or hinder) the other. All too often, we take a reactive (versus proactive) approach when it comes to immune health. This may look like reaching for vitamin C-rich foods and immune-boosting supplements when we get a runny nose or sore throat, or getting to bed earlier than usual only once the signs of being unwell kick in. However, safeguarding immunity should be on our daily to-do list, 365 days a year – and one of the best ways to positively impact your immune system is to get enough high-quality rest, night after night.
For this article, we consulted with a board-certiﬁed physician to find out exactly how sleep impacts on your immune system. We’ll cover just how essential sleep is for immune health, including how healthy sleep patterns can help you stave off acute and chronic diseases, support recovery once illness manifests, and more.
Sleep has a huge bearing on the immune system, for better or for worse. Dr Tamika Henry explains that decreased sleep can lead to increased cytokines (the protein molecules made by immune cells, which lead to inflammation), which is associated with development of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Poor quality sleep can also reduce the body’s production of antibodies, which in turn makes you more susceptible to infection.
Acute and chronic illnesses aside, the quantity and quality of sleep influences how efficiently you’ll bounce back from the demands that daily life presents, which includes but isn’t limited to hectic work schedules, physical activity, and stress.
“A lack of peaceful rest can contribute to poor recovery from life stressors,” Dr Henry continues. This can perpetuate a cycle of feeling worn out and ill-equipped to handle everyday challenges, whether they be physical, mental, or emotional.
While short-term stress can be helpful and protective, research(opens in new tab) shows that chronic stress “suppresses or dysregulates innate and adaptive immune responses… inducing low-grade chronic inflammation, and suppressing numbers, trafficking, and function of immunoprotective cells.” Simply put, adequate sleep can encourage a healthy stress response, which in turn can positively impact immune function.
Credit: Michele Ross