Updated at: 29-08-2022 - By: Jane

Sleep science has come a long way in the last few decades, illuminating sleep’s profound significance for basically every bodily function. It has become increasingly apparent, as research into the connections between sleep and physical health has progressed, that sleep and the immune system are intimately related.

The immune system plays a key role in maintaining good health. It has a crucial role in mending wounds, preventing infections, and warding off chronic and fatal diseases.

There are two-way connections between sleep and the immune system. Lack of sleep is one of the side effects of an immune response, such as that brought on by a viral infection. On the other hand, getting enough shut-eye each night helps keep the immune system in check, ensuring optimal performance.

On the other hand, sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on the body’s defenses. Sleep deprivation has been shown to be unhealthy in both the short and long term.

How Does the Immune System Work?

The body’s immune system is a multi-tiered defense mechanism that operates on many different levels simultaneously. These safeguards can be broken down into two broad classes: innate immunity and adaptive immunity. One of the many benefits of having an innate immune system is the several layers of defense it provides. Acquired immunity, or “adaptive immunity,” refers to the defenses you build up over time in response to certain dangers.

Sleep and Immune System

Understanding the Immune System

The immune system has a lot of moving parts, which makes it quite complicated. Leukocytes, often known as white blood cells, play a crucial role in our immune system. A leukocyte’s mission is to locate, invade, and destroy invading microorganisms. Our immune system’s dual ability to respond instantly (innately) and over time (adaptively) to threats means that we can freely explore the world around us without worrying about contracting any harmful diseases.

A white blood cell’s release of cytokines signals nearby white blood cells to get ready for battle when it encounters a foreign infection. Cytokines are immune system proteins that convey messages. Aside from white blood cells, immunological reactions like swelling and redness involve other substances like histamine.

Balanced Immune Response

At its best, the immune system keeps a fine equilibrium. Reactions including redness, inflammation (swelling), weariness, fever, and pain are triggered by the immune system in reaction to a threat or harm.

Although a robust immune system is necessary for protecting the body from danger, it must be properly controlled to avoid leaving the body permanently on high alert.

How Does Sleep Affect the Immune System?

The immune system relies on enough sleep. A healthy immune system, including robust innate and adaptive immunity, an effective response to immunizations, and less allergy reactions, is enabled by getting enough high-quality sleep.

Sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and disruption of the circadian rhythm, on the other hand, can have negative effects on the immune system.

Sleep and Innate and Adaptive Immunity

Sleep is an essential time for our bodies to rejuvenate, and research shows that it also plays a major influence in the health of our immune systems. Specifically, sleep aids in the maintenance of both innate and adaptive immune systems.

Scientists have discovered that the immune system’s various parts get a boost during the night. When there is inflammation, for instance, cytokine production spikes. Sleep and the circadian rhythm (the body’s 24-hour internal clock) appear to play a role in this behavior.

This inflammatory reaction, which occurs in response to illness or injury, may aid in healing by bolstering the body’s innate and adaptive immune systems while they try to heal wounds or fight off infections.

However, research has shown that this inflammation can take place even in healthy people. By examining the cells and cytokines involved, we can infer that this nighttime immune activity serves to fortify adaptive immunity.

Research reveals that sleep reinforces immunological memory in the same way as it does for learning and memory. Sleep helps the immune system remember how to recognize and react to harmful antigens by facilitating interaction between different parts of the system.

While sleep researchers have yet to pin down a definitive cause for this phenomenon, they have identified a number of possible contributors:

  • As sleep progresses, both respiration and muscular activity decrease, providing the immune system with more resources to fight off infections.
  • As inflammation during the day could impair physical and mental performance, the body has adapted to have this process occur while we sleep at night.
  • The nighttime hormone melatonin is highly effective at mitigating the stress caused by inflammation while you sleep.

When it’s great that your immune system is active while you sleep, it’s especially important that this process be self-regulating. As the night draws to a close, the circadian cycle of the body reduces inflammation. This is because both innate and adaptive immunity rely on a finely tuned balancing act that is aided by receiving adequate high-quality sleep.

How sleep can boost your body's immune response

Sleep and Vaccines

The benefits of sleep for adaptive immunity have been demonstrated by numerous scientific studies, and include an increase in vaccine efficacy.

Vaccines prime the immune system by introducing a tamed or inert form of an infectious agent. To protect against a specific antigen, vaccinations prime the immune system to identify it.

The efficacy of vaccines is significantly influenced by sleep quality. Hepatitis and swine flu (H1N1) vaccine recipients who did not get enough sleep the night after vaccination had a diminished immune response, according to studies. This can lessen the effectiveness of the vaccine and even necessitate a booster shot.

Other studies have found decreased vaccine efficacy in individuals who routinely fail to receive at least seven hours of sleep, albeit those trials did not entail total sleep deprivation after vaccination. Insufficient sleep can prevent the body from forming immunological memory after vaccination, making vaccinated individuals vulnerable.

Sleep and Allergies

Overreactions of the immune system cause allergies, and there is mounting evidence linking sleep deprivation with allergic reactions.

In response to allergens, the body’s response is regulated, in part, by a person’s natural 24-hour clock, according to recent studies. An increase in both the frequency and intensity of allergic reactions has been linked to disruptions in the natural circadian cycle.

Allergies have also been linked to not getting enough sleep. One study indicated that the threshold for peanut exposure leading to an allergic reaction was reduced by 45% in patients with peanut allergies who had not slept the night before.

Can Sleep Deprivation Make You Sick?

Lack of sleep has far-reaching impacts on health, and growing evidence suggests it might affect the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness.

One’s risk of developing long-term conditions like diabetes and heart disease increases with the number of nights they go without sleep. This is being linked by scientists more and more to the way in which lack of sleep disrupts the immune system.

Studies have shown that persons who get less than six or seven hours of sleep every night have a higher risk of infection in the short term. Researchers have found that falling asleep at the wheel increases one’s risk of contracting a cold or the flu. Sleep deprivation may also slow the recovery of persons in intensive care units (ICUs) who need immediate medical attention.

It is thought that the deleterious consequences of sleep deprivation on the immune system contribute to the long-term health issues that have been linked to insufficient sleep. When people have a good night’s sleep, their inflammation levels return to normal overnight. However, this generally self-regulating system malfunctions in people who don’t get enough sleep, leading to chronic inflammation.

A number of diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pain, and neurodegenerative disorders, have been linked to chronic low-grade systemic inflammation. The increased prevalence of depression among persons who have trouble sleeping may be due to the link between chronic inflammation and this mood illness. Animal studies suggest that a lack of sleep might exacerbate the inflammatory response, which in turn can promote cancer growth.

Although it is possible to function on less sleep than is recommended, research shows that the immune system does not “get used to” this situation. Instead, this mild inflammation might persist and harm health in the long run.

How the Immune System Affects Sleep

The immune system relies heavily on sleep, yet sleep is also profoundly impacted by it.

Some of the immune system’s reactions to infections are fatigue and drowsiness. One of the reasons people who are sick tend to stay in bed and sleep more is because of this.

During an infection, sleep itself shifts, with a corresponding shift in the proportion of time spent in various stages. Deep sleep, or stage 3 of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, is specifically promoted by an immunological response. By decreasing the rate at which body processes operate during deep sleep, the immune system is able to devote more resources to fighting off illness.

Similarly, fever is a vital immunological response. In addition to making the body more hostile to many infections, an increase in core body temperature can initiate additional waves of immunological protection. There is some consensus among sleep researchers that the alterations in sleep architecture brought on by infection serve to better promote fever and the body’s battle against invading invaders.

This theory proposes that during an infection, the body spends more time in deep sleep (N3 stage), when metabolism is at its lowest, allowing for a more robust fever response. Shivering also aids the body in dissipating excess heat and keeping a fever up. Because muscle atonia prevents us from shivering in REM sleep, this stage of sleep is severely disrupted when an infection is active. Frequent nightmares, or “fever dreams,” are a common side effect of a fever because of the disruption of REM sleep.

Immunity and sleep: How one affects the other | by Wakefit | Medium

These effects show how closely sleep and the immune system are related, and how the immune system can use sleep to boost its ability to fight infection, which is still being studied by scientists.

How Can You Improve Sleep and Strengthen Your Immune System?

The immune system benefits from sleep, therefore it’s important to make it a point to obtain enough sleep every night.

Focusing on these factors—your habits, routines, sleeping environment, and even if you have the ideal mattress for your needs—is a good place to start when trying to improve your sleep quality. All of these practices, taken together, are called sleep hygiene, and simple ones like sticking to a regular sleep schedule and putting away electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime can greatly improve one’s ability to drift off to dreamland.

People with chronic or severe sleeping problems or issues with recurring illnesses should talk with a doctor. A physician’s job is to seek out the root of a problem and devise a strategy to treat it.

People with chronic or severe sleeping problems or issues with recurring illnesses should talk with a doctor. A physician’s job is to seek out the root of a problem and devise a strategy to treat it.

Those who have trouble sleeping regularly or who suffer from recurrent diseases should consult a physician. If a doctor can determine the root of the problem, they can devise an effective treatment plan.

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