Sleep & the Immune System: What Every Person Should Know | Flomentum
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Sleep & the Immune System: What Every Person Should Know

Sleep & the Immune System: What Every Person Should Know

Author: Flomentum Health Medical Writing Team

Can lack of sleep make you more susceptible to getting sick? The answer is yes. Sleep plays a vital role in your overall health and well being. While getting more sleep may not prevent you from getting sick, not getting enough quality sleep may negatively impact your immune system and make you more susceptible to viruses that cause the common cold or flu.

Dr. Eric Olson of The Mayo Clinic explains that the immune system releases proteins called cytokines throughout the day, including while you sleep. Certain cytokines need to be increased when you have an infection or inflammation. Sleep deprivation or sleep disruptions can result in a decrease in production of these protective cytokines, making you more vulnerable to illness because the body might not mount as strong of an immune response as if you were fully rested.

Taking it one step further, lack of sleep can also cause you to be sick for a longer period of time. Compromised immune system function means our bodies lack the resources to best fight whatever it is that is making us sick.

Most experts agree that adults need about seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night. If you find you have a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep, there are things you can do. 

According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.

The Foundation offers 7 tips for improving your nighttime sleep:

    1. Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes – Naps should not substitute for adequate nighttime sleep. Short naps of 20-30 minutes can help improve mood, alertness, and performance.
    2. Avoid stimulants before bed – Caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime can interfere with the brain’s normal process of falling asleep. Alcohol is known to promote falling asleep, but moderation is the key; too much alcohol can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body processes the alcohol.
    3. Daily exercise – As little as 10 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise can dramatically improve sleep quality. Walking or cycling can do the trick as long as you raise your heart rate long enough. Intense exercise one hour before bedtime, however, may disrupt your body’s ability to fall asleep.
    4. Avoid food and drink before bed – Heavy and rich foods and fatty or fried snacks can trigger indigestion that can interrupt sleep. Consuming liquids will cause the bladder to fill and interrupt sleep. If you are an older man with an enlarged prostate that keeps you from emptying your bladder fully, then a nighttime beverage will likely increase the number times sleep is disrupted to go to the bathroom.
    5. Getting adequate exposure to sunlight Getting enough sunlight during the day, together with darkness at night, helps maintain the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle
    6. Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine Maintaining a nightly routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. You might consider a nightly warm shower or bath, reading a book, or listening to calming music.
    7. Ensure an inviting sleep environment – Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable. The room should be cool, dark, and quiet. Turn off lamps, cell phones, and TV to increase the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, you may have a condition that requires the guidance of a physician.  The Cleveland Clinic reports that there are over eighty sleep disorders that affect 70 million Americans!   

Examples of common conditions that can negatively impact your sleep are:   

  • Insomnia affects an estimated 30% of adults and is defined as having trouble falling asleep or may wake up frequently during the night or early in the morning. 
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea affects an estimated 22 million Americans and is when the upper airway becomes completely or partially blocked as the throat muscles relax, causing breathing to repeatedly stop and start and disrupting normal sleep.  If your sleeping partner notices that you stop breathing or wake up choking and gasping for breath, you may have sleep apnea.
  • Nocturia affects 1 of 3 people and is the medical term for excessive urination at night, which can disrupt your sleep. This can be caused by numerous factors such as an overactive bladder (OAB), an enlarged prostate (BPH), or lifestyle behaviors like drinking too much before bed, especially drinks with caffeine or alcohol. 

If you think you may have a sleep condition or disorder, it is advisable to talk to your doctor. Sleep, like nutrition and physical activity, is an essential component of good health and wellbeing.