How poor sleep can affect your immunity

By The Health News Team | January 2, 2024
Person experiencing insomnia

A lack of sleep at night can make you cranky in the morning. And over time, skimping on sleep can negatively affect more than just your mood.

Sleep deficiency has long been linked to health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressurediabetesstroke, obesity and depression. But it can also disrupt a key component of the body's immune system. A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine suggests a regular lack of sleep can negatively affect immune cells, potentially increasing the risk of inflammatory disorders and heart disease.

“Sleep is vital because it allows our bodies and brains to rest, repair and recharge.” says Dr. Ari Laliotis , a board-certified internal medicine and sleep medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Healthy sleep is a key pillar of a robust immune system and has been shown to play a role in both improving antibody responses to vaccinations and reducing susceptibility to infectious illnesses.”

How does sleep impact the immune system?

Your immune system is like your body’s army. It’s an incredibly sophisticated and complex system that helps defend against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. When we sleep, it gives the body time to carry out any “housekeeping” or repairs it needs across all of our body’s systems.

“Sleep allows our body to engage in essential restorative processes,” Dr. Laliotis explains. "Quality sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing for balanced and effective immune function."

On the other hand, lack of sleep can throw off the immune system. Specifically, it influences the environment where monocytes (a type of white blood cell) form, develop and get ready to support immune function. For example, adults who did not get enough sleep were found to have a higher production of monocytes, higher numbers of immune stem cells in the blood, and evidence of immune activation.

But aren’t more immune cells a good thing?

While a certain amount of inflammation is needed to fight infections and heal wounds, too much can be harmful.

“Sleep loss increases the number of monocytes which are proinflammatory,” Dr. Laliotis says. “An overactive immune system results in inflammation and can potentially raise the risk of both auto-immune diseases and chronic diseases.”

The bottom line: Sleep provides essential support to the immune system, helping maintain its healthy functioning by providing a well-balanced response.

Tips for better sleep

It’s safe to say that sleep and immunity have a pretty tight-knit relationship. The average adult should aim to get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night.

Dr. Laliotis offers these tips to help get better sleep:

  • Wind down and clear your head.
    Residual stress, worry and anger from your day can make it difficult to unwind and sleep well. Jot down what's on your mind or put together a to-do list and then set it aside for tomorrow.

  • Be consistent.
    Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.

  • Get enough exercise.
    Exercise reduces stress levels, which can quiet your mind before bed. Plus, burning more energy during the day can make you naturally feel more tired at night.

  • Avoid alcohol at night.
    Drinking alcohol before bed can disrupt your sleep cycle and make you feel more tired and sluggish.

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