During this global pandemic, we should really be making an effort to stay as healthy as possible. And while that does include hygiene, staying active, hydrating, eating properly, and more, it also includes one of the most often forgotten elements of health – a good night’s sleep.
We know for a fact that sleep quality and immune system strength are bio directionally linked. This means that if your immune system is weakened, your sleep quality will most likely suffer as well. This also works in the opposite direction.
Today, we’re going to talk more about sleep, sleep quality, and its relation to immunity. Let’s examine this well-documented connection and give you all the more reasons to start prioritizing a healthy, high-quality sleep schedule.
First, let’s talk about the link between quality sleep and good health.
It’s no secret to anyone – you know how rough you may feel when you don’t get enough sleep.
You’re irritable, groggy, prone to headaches, you can’t focus, and that’s just the surface result. You can also see it all over your face, if you’re one of the people who get breakouts when they don’t get enough sleep.
So at first sight, the impact of sleep on staying healthy is very visible. But today, we’re talking about health as in the ability for your body to fight off illness.
Ensuring you get a proper night’s sleep is one of the easiest ways to strengthen your immune system, as well as protect both your physical and your mental health. When you’re sleeping well, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Cytokines promote sleep quality, thereby making it imperative that your body gets at least 7/8 hours of rest per night to fight off infections and disease.
Sleep allows your body to rest and repair during the hours you’re doing it, which is why you usually feel tired when you’re unwell. By sleeping, you’re giving your body the chance to fix what’s wrong.
Sleep supports the cells and proteins of the immune system, and allows them to easily detect and destroy germs. Not only that, but it also helps your body remember them so they can fight them off even faster in the future. Sleep strengthens your immune response, and at times like these, it’s important that we’re getting enough of it.
So how does better sleep lead to better immunity?
A team from the University of Tübingen (in Germany) recently did a study and found a mechanism linking sleep quality to the proper functioning of the immune system.
The researchers found out that getting an adequate amount of sleep boosts the effectiveness of specialized immune cells called T-cells.
In this research paper, which you can now find in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the scientists explain what lies at the bottom of this relationship between sleep and the body’s defenses system against infection.
T-cells make up a part of your body’s immune response when a potentially harmful body enters your system.
These immune cells help your body recognize the pathogens, then activate integrins, which are basically a type of protein that allows T-cells to attach to their foreign targets.
However, the study notes that very little is known about how T-cells activate integrins, as well as what prevents these cells from attaching to these targets.
But the team continued.
They wanted to learn more about these mechanisms, so they focused on alpha-coupled receptor agonists. These are a type of signaling molecule that has the ability to block the action of the immune system.
Laboratory analysis found that some of these receptor agonists stopped T-cells from activating integrins, naturally preventing them from attaching to their target.
The study concluded that sleep has the potential to enhance the efficiency of T-cell responses, and that this is especially important considering that many people around the world suffer from disorders such as impaired sleep, depression, chronic stress, shift work, and other things that impair sleep quality.
Another study did something different, and they looked at identical twins and found that the twin that slept less every night had a reduced immune ability to fight off disease compared to the twin that got a good night’s sleep.
From this, the researchers concluded that not getting enough sleep can compromise your immune system and make it easier for viruses or harmful bacteria to enter your system. Not only that, but when poor sleep quality suppresses the immune system, you’ll need more time to recover if you do end up getting sick.
This is because your immune system releases a specific type of protein called cytokines. They’re essentially part of your body’s first line of defense against invaders. Note: They’re also released in response to injuries.
When you haven’t gotten enough sleep, your body’s production of cytokines naturally decreases, and so does the development of infection-fighting antibodies, making you more susceptible to viruses.
What does this mean for you?
Because sleep quality and immune system function are so closely connected, this means that you can benefit your health by participating in activities that improve your sleep quality.
Proper dieting, exercise, meditation and relaxation, have all been linked to benefiting your sleep, and therefore, your immune system!
Even if you believe you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep right now, what you should be focusing on is sleep quality.
In reality, everybody has different methods for getting enough sleep. But if you’re struggling with getting high-quality sleep on a long-term basis, you need to be re-structuring your sleeping habits as soon as possible.
You may need a little help to develop your routine and achieve sleep consistency.
In a final study, researchers concluded that one in ten people sleep better after sufficient exercise. One in eight people said that reading a book before bed improved their sleep. Some people do yoga and report better sleep quality.
That’s why regardless if you’re getting enough decent sleep right now, it won’t hurt you to take a look at your sleep habits and decide on ways you can improve them.
During these stressful times, getting enough sleep helps you a lot. It reduces stress, enhances your immunity, improves your overall health, and it’s definitely something you should be prioritizing right now. Your body will thank you for it.