When you aren’t getting enough sleep, it shows! From hindering our ability to think clearly or make decisions, to feeling groggy or lethargic the next day, it’s no secret that sleep plays a number of important roles in our overall health and well-being. But did you know, lack of sleep may also compromise your immune system?
While you sleep, your immune system creates protective, infection fighters called antibodies and cytokines. This immune army keeps you healthy and stands on guard against viruses and bacteria. Certain cytokines also help you sleep, making your immune system more efficient in defending you against bad bacteria. Sleep deprivation weakens your immunity since you don’t give your body the opportunity to recoup. 1
Sleep deprivation affects the immune system by:
- Lowering white blood cells: Lack of sleep decreases the amount of infection-fighting antibodies in your system.2
- Decreased production of cytokines: Studies have linked sleep deprivation to the production of cytokines, which are chemical messengers essential for suppressing infection and inflammation. 2
- Suppression of melatonin: Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone that is produced at night to combat stress. 2
While the consequences of sleep deprivation may seem scary, there are ways to help yourself get a better and more restful night’s sleep!
Here are some tips for better sleep hygiene:
- Commit to a routine: A key component to regular, restful sleep is a regular, balanced schedule. Try to keep bedtime around the same hour for best results.
- Say good night to blue light: Blue light, which is emitted from devices such as our phones, televisions and laptops, has been reported as incredibly disruptive to your sleep cycle because it suppresses melatonin. To avoid feeling like a zombie in the morning, try limiting your screen time an hour before you’re ready to hit the hay. To decrease blue light on your laptop, try installing blue-light-blocking apps or toggling the “night shift” display on your phone. This will automatically adjust the blue light as the evening begins.
- Try to squeeze in some steps during the day: The benefits of exercise are vast, and when it comes to sleep it’s important for helping our bodies feel tired at the end of the day. It also helps with managing stress, which in turn, promotes a good night’s rest. Bonus points if you can get outside for your workout, as natural daylight exposure can help to send the correct signals to the brain for regulating our sleep-wake cycle.4
- Support through supplementation: Even sound sleepers have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep - especially if you’ve recently travelled and are experiencing jetlag. You may want to try melatonin for sleep if you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. 4
- To support your immune system, try vitamin C and vitamin D. Both work together to optimize the immune system, so it can do its best job of protecting you from sneaky pathogens.
Keep your Zzzs and sneezes in check by following these simple tricks!
- Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, Colten HR and Altevogt BM (ed.), Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem, Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2006.
- Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012 Jan;463(1):121-37. doi: 10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0. Epub 2011 Nov 10. PMID: 22071480; PMCID: PMC3256323.
- Divya Jacob, P. D. (2021, August 11). How does lack of sleep affect your immune system? MedicineNet. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.medicinenet.com/how_does_lack_of_sleep_affect_your_immune_system/article.htm
- Melatonin for sleep: Does it work? Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work? | Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2022, April 11). Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/melatonin-for-sleep-does-it-work