Understanding Your Immune System: Why Quality Of Sleep Matters
A good night’s sleep evades many people in the modern world. Fast-paced careers, family and social obligations, and the demands of everyday life often take precedence over getting the proper amount of shut-eye. But lack of good quality sleep doesn’t just leave a person tired throughout the day; it can cause a host of different health ailments that can continue to build if the sleep cycle isn’t rectified.
One area in which sleep is vital is immunity. The immune system is the body’s protection against pathogens, and without good quality sleep, that protection becomes a little less viable. But what does quality sleep really mean? And why is sleep so important when it comes to immune function?
What is classified as quality sleep?
To understand sleep quality, one must first understand the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal 24-hour clock. It ticks along in the background, making sure that all essential processes are getting done. It makes sure that things are running smoothly at the times they are supposed to, and that includes the sleep cycle.
To get good quality sleep, the circadian rhythm must be functioning at its best. A good sleep quality may be slightly different for everyone, but there are some standard guidelines that are based on four factors of sleep:
- How much you sleep while in bed
- How quickly you fall asleep
- How often you wake during the night
- How awake you are after initially going to bed
Looking at these parameters, a good level of quality sleep is indicated by sleeping at least 85 percent of the time while in bed, falling asleep in 30 minutes or less, waking up no more than once in the night, and being awake for 20 minutes or less after you initially go to bed.
What are the positive effects of sleep?
There are many benefits to getting the right amount and right type of shut-eye each night. In terms of brain function, sleep is vital because it can increase the efficiency of the working mind. Concentration, productivity, and performance in day-to-day life all rely heavily on how well one slept the night before.
Research has also shown that getting poor quality sleep can lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, can cause weight gain, increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression.
Why is sleep important for the immune system?
The immune system needs good quality sleep to help it function. During sleep, the system continues working at strengthening immune cells. When you’re asleep there are less stress hormones in the body, and when the levels are low, the body can continue producing important immune cells such as cytokines. It can also increase the strength of T-cells, which are needed to help kill viruses.
During times of low sleep or sleep deprivation, the body also struggles to keep the number of antibodies up, which can lead to a reduced ability to fight off infections that your body should be prepared to battle against. Sleep deprivation can also lead to a reduced ability to produce natural killer cells that are important for immune function.
Does good sleep increase immunity?
Since a lack of sleep can lead to a weakened immune function, the opposite is true: good sleep can help boost and foster a strong immune system. Sleeping boosts immune system function in a variety of different ways. For example: when the body is sleeping, the immune system is free to release certain cytokines, and an increase in cytokines is crucial to responding to an infection or inflammation in the body.
A good sleep is anywhere from seven to nine hours per night, depending on the person. As long as the body is going through the proper sleep cycles throughout the night for the duration of sleep, you should wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
How to get a good night’s sleep
It’s not hard to convince people that good quality sleep matters. Everyone can feel it the next day when they didn’t get enough rest. Dealing with chronic sleep deprivation due to a demanding lifestyle or career is also something that can hinder the immune system’s ability to fight off infection, and the body will feel the effects of this as well. Lack of sleep can also pose a few other health risks, such as reduced brain function, weight gain, and the increased risk of developing chronic diseases.
To ensure you get a good night’s sleep every night, you can practice a few night-time rituals that will make sure your cycle is up to par. The first thing you should do is turn off all electronics an hour before bed. Studies have shown that the blue light from electronics can hinder sleep quality and lead to chronic sleep deprivation. You could also begin to build your own night-time routine that will set the tone for your sleep: for example, meditating, reading, or writing in a journal. Whatever your routine of choice is, stick with it, and watch as your immunity benefits from it all year round.