Getting your body to its strongest and healthiest shape may have been lurking around your list of 2020 goals. With the current pandemic however — all plans to boost your immune system and body’s strength must now take top priority.
To achieve this, usual suspects like diets, vitamins and supplements are resorted to. But there’s another proven method to strengthen and boost your immunity. A method so easy, you can do it with both eyes closed: getting a good night’s sleep.
With its healing and restorative powers, we’ll be examining the general benefits of sleep and the special role it plays in improving your immunity. We’ll also be checking out what happens when you cut corners with sleep. Next to that we look into why 7+ hours of a night’s rest are essential for a healthy immune system.
At the first signs of a fever, it isn’t uncommon for friends and family alike to advise that you attempt a little rest to sleep it away. Have a headache? Get some sleep. Beginnings of the flu? Go lie down. There’s hardly any ailment whose first course of treatment doesn’t recommend some good old-fashioned rest and relaxation. But is there any basis to this?
When it comes to the question of sleep boosting your immune system and keeping illness at bay — you cannot dispute its effectiveness. Studies have shown that skimming on sleep can impact how easily susceptible the body becomes to disease-causing pathogens like bacteria and viruses. The amount of sleep you get at night influences your convalescence period. Quality sleep is likely to shorten it, and insufficient sleep only lengthens the recovery process.
Sleep works magic for immunity. Because of that, the immune system shows its thanks by improving the quality of sleep, allowing for better and deeper rest.
Benefits of sleep
When it comes to the benefits of sleep, its value in keeping morning crankiness at bay, banishing under eye circles or even magically fortifying beauty is widely accepted.
Beyond these benefits however, getting between 7-8 hours of sleep every night can greatly improve your body’s well-being in many important ways.
Here are 5 ways getting a good night’s rest could keep your body buzzing with energy and good health:
Sleep reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
If it could, your heart would probably whisper ‘thanks’, whenever you kept to your bedtime, and postponed your favorite Netflix series till the morning.
In a study conducted on over 150,000 American adults, those who routinely slept 7-8 hours a night, showed a 25% reduced risk of having a stroke.
Good quality sleep also decreases the work your heart performs, as blood pressure and heart rates go down while sleeping.
It is important to note that the magic number for a good night’s sleep, rests between 6-8 hours. Anything below or above could prove dangerous to your heart’s health.
Sleep helps with weight control
If your morning workout has ever left you wishing you could lose weight while asleep, then we have a little news for you.
While sleep won’t have you losing ten pounds overnight, 7- 8 hours of rest at night could aid in weight control. Being sleep deprived can leave you unmotivated to exercise in the morning. A study shows it also encourages the brain to crave comfort foods like high carb snacks.
Adequate sleep helps prevent this. With healthy rest, you encourage your body’s regular production of Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and Lenin (the hormone that tells your body to stop eating).
Sleep is important for maintaining a good mood
There’s a reason getting only a little sleep at night can leave you feeling plenty irritable, cranky and just downright miserable come morning.
Sleep has been proven to affect the mood. Studies have shown that even a partial deprivation of sleep can leave you feeling stressed, angry and mentally exhausted. Normal sleep can have a reversal effect on your mood.
Sleep increases productivity
Here’s a suggestion you might raise a brow at. The next time you feel unmotivated or uninspired at work? Make sure you get between 7- 8 hours of sleep later at night and subsequently after.
This is because insufficient and inconsistent sleep is proven to induce stress on the brain. It affects the rate your brain functions, translating to decreased work productivity.
With adequate sleep, you reduce your chances of burnout, improve your memory and make better decisions.
Sleep can help to prevent inflammation
Ordinarily, inflammation occurs as our body’s response to fight off disease-causing pathogens. Unfortunately, sometimes this response can be against harmless cells in the body, leading to auto-immune diseases like arthritis and lupus.
This reaction can trigger because of a lack of sleep. Insufficient sleep has been shown to increase the levels of inflammation in the body.
Consistently getting quality sleep can help prevent inflammation brought on by poor sleeping habits.
Boost your immune system with sleep
Sleep and immunity operate on a two-way street. When disease-causing microbial organisms activate the immune system, it usually triggers an increase in the length of sleep and its intensity. When you don’t sleep well (enough), your immune system will weaken. In addition to being more susceptible to pathogens, you produce less sleep-inducing substances, so you will sleep less deeply. This sleep then assists the immune system in fighting off diseases.
By enhancing the length and intensity of sleep, the body’s defense system is strengthened. The production of hormones necessary for the countering of harmful organisms occurs during rest. Transmitters like cytokines which help to increase and regulate the immune system’s response to infection and inflammation are produced during the body’s deep sleep. Cytokines such as interleukin are also instrumental in inducing fatigue.
After assisting with defeating inflammation and infections, a good night’s sleep also ensures that your immune system remembers how to keep the bad guys out. It achieves this by strengthening the response memory of the immune system, allowing it to respond faster and more effectively to previously encountered microbes.
You produce infection fighting antibodies during sleep
Imagine this: your body is a war zone under direct attack from disease-causing pathogens. For protection, your immune system releases macho T-Cells with three things on their agenda:
- Recognize the pathogens
- Attach to them using adhesive proteins called integrins
- Eliminate them
There’s a snag however. Present in your body are molecules like adrenaline and prostaglandin which prevent your T-Cells from attaching, suppressing your immune response. This is where sleep comes in.
Research has shown lower levels of these molecules are produced while sleeping, allowing the T-Cells less interference to do their jobs.
Sleep helps in the production of Cytokines
To fight off infection and inflammation, the body relies on a group of proteins called cytokines.
These cytokines produce an immune response to attack and are produced and released during sleep.
What this means is, by laying vertically for 7 – 8 hours of shut-eye every night, you directly contribute to your body’s ability to fight off deadly infections.
Sleep assists in the repair of wounds
When you harm yourself through paper cuts or while playing as a contestant on Top Chef, your body will require some tissue repair to heal the wound.
Tissue growth and repair occurs during sleep when the brain can trigger the release of hormones that encourage the growth and repair of blood vessels.
This occurs between the 3rd and 4th stages of sleep, after the body has completed about 70% of rest.
The immune system works better during sleep
Thanks to the cytokines, infection fighting antibodies and cells produced during sleep, getting your body the adequate amount of rest will benefit your immune system.
What Happens To Your Immune System When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Think about it like this: your immune system is like a battalion of soldiers ready to go to war against disease causing pathogens for you. It simply requires that you arm it with a balanced diet, regular exercise and sleep to allow it to do its job efficiently.
Sleep plays an important role in producing antibodies, anti-inflammation, weight control, mood regulation, the improvement of heart health etcetera. Its absence or inadequacy could open the body to infections, inflammatory diseases like arthritis, obesity, depression and even life threatening heart disease like stroke or high blood pressure.
Without adequate sleep i.e. 7-8 hours, you surpress the body’s immune response. This opens it up to chronic systemic, low-grade inflammation which is linked to diseases like diabetes and neurodegeneration.
On the outside, a night of inadequate rest can leave your eye bags heavy, your emotions weary and your energy lacking. On the inside, things don’t look any better.
To have a strong enough immune system, your body needs the required amount of rest to boost its immunity. But as we’ve seen, the immune system also has a part to play in improving the body’s sleep. Making both body functions mutually beneficial and important to the other.