When your mother told you to get a good night's sleep and you will feel better in the morning, you likely never thought there was science behind that recommendation. But as researchers continue to study the role sleep plays in our overall health, they are finding more and more how a good night's sleep helps our immune system operate at peak efficiency.
Sleep and immunity
According to Shore Sleep and Balance Clinical Education Specialist John Keeley, sleep and the immune system are directly related.
“The immune system is critical to overall health. It is absolutely necessary to help our body heal wounds, fight off infections, and protect against chronic and life-threatening illnesses,” said Keeley. “An immune response, like we might have from a viral infection, can affect sleep. At the same time, consistent sleep patterns and good sleep hygiene strengthen the immune system, allowing for a balanced and effective immune function to fight off that infection. This is especially important as we move past the pandemic and return to in-person experiences that make us more at risk for the flu, colds and other things we have not been exposed to in some time.”
Keeley added, “Sleep provides essential support to the immune system. Getting sufficient hours of high-quality sleep enables a well-balanced immune defense that features strong innate and adaptive immunity, efficient response to vaccines, and less severe allergic reactions.”
How the immune system works
The immune system is complex, like a computer network running throughout the body providing multiple lines of defense against an attack of illnesses. Keeley said many components contribute to the complexity of the immune system but it is leukocytes, or white blood cells, that identify, attack, and remove pathogens from our bodies.
“When functioning optimally, the immune system maintains a delicate balance. When a threat or injury arises, the immune system triggers responses such as redness, inflammation, fatigue, fever, and or pain,” said Keeley. “It is so important for the immune system to be strong enough to find and attack potential threats. Quality, nightly restorative sleep helps boost the immune system naturally.”
Sleep and vaccines
Keeley said several studies have clearly shown that sleep improves the effects of vaccines, a connection of increasing importance as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization push for more people to get fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19.
“Sleep is an important period of bodily rest, and studies indicate that sleep plays a crucial role in the robustness of our immune system. Researchers have found that while we sleep each night, certain components of the immune system rev up. For example, there is an increased production of hormone cytokines associated with fighting inflammation. This activity appears to be driven by both sleep and circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal, 24-hour clock,” said Keeley.
Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or deactivated antigen to the body, triggering an immune response. “In this way, immunizations effectively teach the immune system to recognize and attack that foreign body,” concluded Keeley.
Good sleep habits help chronic health problems
“Just like sleep helps the brain consolidate learning and memory, new research suggests that sleep strengthens immune memory," said Keeley. That interaction during sleep reinforces the immune system’s ability to remember how to recognize and react to dangerous antigens,” said Keeley.
But for many, a good night’s sleep is elusive. It can be due to poor sleep hygiene, sleep apnea or other sleep disorders that prevent individuals from getting that deep, restorative sleep the body needs to function properly and keep the immune system fine-tuned. The Shore Sleep Center conducts sleep studies to help determine what is behind a patient's snoring, multiple awakenings during the night or other problems that keep deep sleep at bay.
Keeley was quick to point out that we are not just battling Covid-19. “From our year in lockdown and staying socially distant, we were not exposed to the flu, colds and other seasonal bugs. We need to practice good sleep hygiene and use it to enhance our immune system and help ward off seasonal bugs as we go back to work, travel and spend more time safely with family and friends.”
Shore Sleep Center might be able to help you achieve a better night’s sleep. If you think you might have a sleep disorder, take the sleep disorder assessment. For more information on sleep disorder screenings, please call 609-820-9822.