Sleep is important for the body.
Not getting sufficient sleep can affect our health.
Did you know that sleep and the immune system are closely intertwined? In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of sleep and how sleep deprivation (or lack of sleep), can affect the immune system.
Sleep – What IS Sleep?
What exactly is sleep? Although we all sleep, most of us would have a hard time describing exactly what sleep is.
Here are some characteristics that define sleep:
- Sleep is a period of reduced activity.
- Sleep means you are usually lying down with your eyes closed.
- When you are sleeping, there is a decrease in responsiveness to external stimuli.
- Sleep is a state that is relatively easy to reverse.
The body goes through some physiological changes during sleep. The body’s blood pressure and temperature drops. Plus our breathing and heart rate become very regular during non-REM sleep.
During sleep our brain activity changes from variable, random activity during wakefulness and REM sleep, to a more coordinated synchronous pattern during non-REM sleep.
How Much Sleep Should I Be Getting?
The amount of sleep each person needs will, to some degree, vary however here is a guideline for you:
Adult: an adult should be getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep to bolster the immune system
Teens: teens need at least 9 – 10 hours of sleep
Younger Kids (Grade School age): younger kids should be getting 10 or more hours of sleep.
After reading the above guidelines, ask yourself if you are getting enough sleep.
The Importance of Sleep On the Immune System
We all know that sleep is important. But do you REALLY know WHY?
Sleep is a natural state that our bodies need to be in order for us to be healthy.
While we are sleeping our immune system produces and releases cytokines.
What Are Cytokines?
Cytokines are a category of small proteins that are important in cell signalling.
This type of protein targets infection and inflammation. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep.
Certain cytokines MUST increase when you have an infection, inflammation or you are under stress. This is why sufficient sleep is so important.
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines. Fewer cytokines means that your body has less of these important proteins to help fight off infection and inflammation.
Poor sleep or not enough sleep can increase inflammation, blood pressure, insulin resistance, cortisol (stress hormone), cause weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
Many studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. With this new Coronavirus going around, a good sleep is now even more important to help keep the immune system strong!
In one recent study on sleep, scientists discovered that a good quality sleep can bolster the T cells in your body that fight infection. A good sleep enhances the ability of the T cells to stick to and destroy cells infected by viruses and other pathogens.
How To Catch Up On Sleep
Of course, there are going to be times, when your sleep hygiene, no matter how hard you try, is not at its best. Having a baby, or young kids, or a child with a disability, can throw a wrench in a proper sleep schedule.
The good thing is that you can always nap to help to catch up on the sleep you need. Two naps no longer than 30 minutes, help decrease stress and offset the negative effects sleep deprivation has on the immune system.
The best way to take these naps is to have one 30 minute nap in the morning (mid-morning) and one in the afternoon (early afternoon).
Sleep and Your Gut Microbiome
As a nerd of all things gut related, I wanted to cover sleep and the gut as well.
There is growing evidence to suggest that gut microbiome can influence sleep quality.
Sleep is a physiological state that is linked to the immune system, however sleep and the brain-gut microbiome axis (BGMA) is largely understudied, leaving very little known about the effects of sleep deprivation on the gut.
One study found that short term sleep loss induces subtle effects on the gut microbiota. Partial sleep deprivation can alter the gut microbiome composition in as little as 48 hours. However, this same study found that longer periods of sleep deprivation do not have this effect on the gut microbiome.
A more recent study showed that good sleep quality was associated with a gut microbiome containing a high proportion of good bacteria from the Verrucomicrobia. Having a high proportion of this type of good bacteria was then associated with improved performance on cognitive tasks.
However, the way in which the gut microbiome can affect sleep remains unresolved. The molecules that interface between sleep and the gut microbiome remain unidentified currently.
This same recent study also found that microbiome diversity was positively connected with an unfragmented sleep and total sleep time, but was negatively connected with a fragmented sleep.
The results from this study suggests diversity of the gut microbiome promotes a healthier sleep.
Sleep and How It Affects the Gut Microbiome Remains Unclear
From the few studies I was able to find and read, there are conflicting results. The relationship between sleep physiology and gut microbiome remains unclear.
Further investigations in large and more prolonged sleep studies are needed in order to assess how the microbiota is affected by sleep (or lack thereof).
In the meantime, be sure to make it your goal this week to go to bed 30 minutes earlier than you normally do. Give your body the sleep it needs to support your immune system. Be sure to read my other post on natural ways to strengthen your immune system for more ideas to support your body during this season of new and uncertain viruses!
Did you find this post helpful? Be sure to leave a comment and let me know. Or share your experiences with sleep and your immune health!