For Women, By Women

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Why sleep is crucial for the immune system

1st for Women Insurance recently spoke to Nikki Temkin, journalist of 20 years and accredited functional health and wellness coach. Nikki shares valuable insights and practical advice on mental and physical wellbeing during lockdown and beyond. In this article she focuses on the value of sleep in supporting our immune systems. 

It’s never been more crucial than now to keep your immune system functioning optimally. Sleep deprivation is just no longer a viable option for optimal health. Burning the candle at both ends is no longer considered a badge of honor, even in our modern “always on” culture.

Much research has been done on how sleep affects just about everything including mental health, memory, concentration, mood, weight, appetite and blood sugar, judgment, and crucially, the immune system. Our immune system is designed to protect us from coldsflu, and other ailments, but it can’t when it’s not  functioning properly.

Many studies show that people who don't get quality sleep (or even enough sleep) are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. Quality sleep is essential to keeping your body optimal to ward off any potential illness. The hours of sleep before midnight are more valuable to the body than those acquired between midnight and rising.

In the deepest and most restorative third stage of sleep (known as N3 and N4), blood pressure drops; breathing becomes slower; muscles are relaxed; blood supply to muscles increases; tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored and many hormones including Growth Hormone, essential for growth and development, is released. Brain cells shrink by 60%, increasing the space between them so toxins and waste products can be flushed effectively away. Your entire body is undergoing important repair and detoxification.

Also, during sleep your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, as well as immune boosting T cells.  Essential cytokines are needed to increase when you have an infection or inflammation (as you would during a virus or infection), when you're under stress and even when suffering from chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Sleep deprivation can decrease production of these protective cytokines. Plus, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced when you’re not getting enough sleep. The more sleep loss, the higher your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) will be. This is a marker of inflammation in your system – the latest research shows that inflammation plays a role in pretty much every possible health condition.

For deep, quality sleep to happen, it’s a good idea to adopt a routine of sleep hygiene.

Sleep Hygiene means:  

  • No alcohol at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Not drinking caffeine-containing beverages from 2pm.
  • Doing your daily exercise before 6pm.
  • The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. Teenagers need about nine to 10 hours of sleep. School children may need 10 or more hours of sleep.
  • Screen-free time. Set aside your cell phone, Netflix and laptop at least an hour or even two before bedtime. The blue light of screens and the overload of information is very stimulating and won’t help your body or mind to calm down before turning in for the night.
  • Keeping to the same wake up and go to sleep time each day. This trains your biological clock into a particular habit.
  • Avoiding anxiety producing activities before bedtime e.g. paying the bills
  • Having a bedtime ritual prepares your brain and body for sleep e.g. taking a hot bath before bedtime will help to soothe and relax the system. Throw in some Epsom salts and lavender oils for an extra deep sleep.  
  • Avoiding eating within three hours of bedtime. Your body then won’t be bothered with having to digest a meal when it needs to be resting.
  • Dealing with any stress way before your head hits the pillow. Whether this means journaling, meditating, breathing exercises or praying, processing the day’s stresses and emotions before going to sleep
  • Correcting any sleep issues that could prevent quality sleep e.g. sleep apnea, reliance on sleeping pills, snoring, insomnia and other sleep disorders. You may need to consult a health professional, sleep clinic or wellness coach to assess the challenge you’re facing.

If anxiety is preventing a good night’s rest then schedule an appointment with someone to help you with some tools, supplements or therapeutic interventions to manage anxiety or stress.

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