If you’ve found yourself obsessing more and more about your health lately, you’re not alone. It’s not surprising that we’re worried about our wellbeing when we’re living in the midst of a global pandemic. The best thing to do to prevent the spread of a virus is to keep washing your hands, and maintain social distancing. But did you know that sleep also plays a vital role when it comes to protecting your health?
Sleep is a natural immune booster, and regularly getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways you can improve your immunity. While trying to sleep more won’t necessarily stop you from becoming ill, depriving yourself of sleep could negatively affect your immune system. This can make you susceptible to colds, flu, and viruses.
How does your immune system work?
The immune system is your body’s defence system against harmful germs that can make you sick. It kicks in when it recognises antigens or toxins that are foreign to your body. This triggers a response where the immune system develops antibodies that will fight the invading toxins. Once these are produced, your immune system will commit this information to memory. It will use it again if it ever runs into the same issue – this is why you typically only get illnesses like chickenpox once in your lifetime.
How does poor sleep affect my immune system?
You need lots of sleep for your body to run as effectively as possible. Without enough regular sleep, your body will see a drop in the number of molecules that fight inflammation – and inflammation changes how the brain regulates sleep. This means that your body will require much more energy to function properly.
A lack of sleep has been proven to make you vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Even if you’re only slightly sleep deprived, you’re more likely to catch a cold or flu. This is because your body will activate certain parts of the immune system responsible for autoimmune flare-ups.
So how does good sleep boost my immunity?
- It boosts your T cell production. T cells are important white blood cells. When harmful toxins enter your body, T cells recognise pathogens, then activate integrins (a type of protein that allows T cells to attack and destroy any virus-carrying cells).
- It supports the release of cytokine. A good night’s sleep improves your immune system’s response time. It helps with the release and production of cytokine, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. Cytokines decide on the best plan of action to fight a virus, and then direct the immune cells as needed. A lack of sleep hinders cytokine production and makes it harder for your body to fight infection.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This will help keep your immune system in fighting shape, and can also protect you from other health issues (like diabetes and heart disease).
Of course, the first line of defence against a virus is not to catch it. To help prevent infection, you should wash your hands regularly, avoid contact with sick people, and clean or disinfectant objects you frequently use. And if you do become ill, remember that getting enough hours of quality sleep each night is the best thing you can do to recover quickly.