How Your Sleeping Habits Affect Your Immune System

The average American is not getting enough sleep, a fact that is actively intensifying current trends in the spread of infectious disease. Now, it isn’t particularly surprising that losing out on sleep weakens our immune response. We already know that not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of rest each day undermines many processes. Sleep and the immune system are clearly tied together. However, until recently, scientists have understood relatively little about the relationship between adequate rest and prolonged health.

For millennia, we have recognized that sleep is an essential, daily process. Even the eight-hour guideline was well-established. But, only recently did we begin to understand why our bodies need so much sleep and what processes occur during it. Fortunately, the last decade has been particularly prolific regarding sleep-related research, and we are beginning to truly understand what our bodies go through while we drift off to dreamland.

While You’re Sleeping

The most recognizable research on the subject revolves almost entirely around the brain. As a result, most of us already understand that the brain stays pretty busy during your sleeping hours. Between managing waste and repairing important connections, your brain actively protects your neural health and the cells responsible for learning and memory. 

However, while your brain cleans house and polishes furniture, the rest of your body goes through its own maintenance processes.

Research into sleep’s role in other physiological processes came into its own over the past decade. Scientists around the world put their theories to the test. The result is that we now know much more about the effect that sleep has on the human immune system. There is still a lot of work to be done in the field, but we are getting closer to definite answers. 

Digging Through the Research

Scientific studies reveal that sleep affects your immune system in two primary ways: production and efficacy.  

First, the European Journal of Physiology explains that your body divides your immunological response into two halves. One for when you are awake. And, one for when you sleep. Essentially, while you’re awake, your body is busy producing cytotoxic NK cells and CTL. Fortunately, you don’t have to understand what they are to understand their job. These cell types are already specialized. Your body uses these cells to combat foreign objects in your body aggressively.

When You Sleep

However, while you sleep, your body produced cytokines and T cells. Cytokines are exclusively produced and released during sleep. These are proteins that directly target infected cells. T cells, on the other hand, are part of your body’s evolving response to new germs. These undifferentiated cells support the creation of “long-lasting immunological memories.” These are systems that support your body’s ability to combat new infections. 

If that weren’t enough, the Journal of Experimental Medicine just last year showed that sleep also affects the effectiveness of T cells. This is due to a protein called integrin. The researchers found that adrenaline and prostaglandin, both of which are produced in smaller amounts during sleep, actively restrain the activation of integrin. That may not sound like much, but integrin is what allows T cells to attach to harmful pathogens. Reduced integrin activation makes it much harder for healthy T cells to do their job.

Reflecting on Sleep and the Immune System

Thanks to the hard work of a global team of researchers, we are finally beginning to understand the full importance of sleep better. It is more important than ever to ensure that you are getting seven to eight hours of sleep. Also, check that any children you have are getting at least ten hours a night well into their teens. If you or a loved one are struggling with a sleep disorder, then reach out to Sleep MD for an initial consultation.

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