We often take our immune system for granted, and expect our bodies to get over any illness life throws at them, or to not get ill at all, on their own accord. We forget to appreciate our good health when we have it, and moan at our lack of foresight when the way we treat our bodies backfires on us. One of the most important aspects of taking care of our bodies is getting enough sleep. Yet sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice at the altar of a late night with friends, a work assignment, or a new show on Netflix. Let’s explore what the connection between our immune system and sleep is, and how we can improve it.
What does a lack of sleep do to our immune system?
Studies have shown that when we don’t get enough sleep, we are more prone to suffering from viral infections, such as the common cold. A lack of sleep can also prolong the effects and symptoms of these infections, and have us feeling less than our usual selves for a lot longer. While we sleep, our immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help us sleep better. The production of some of these proteins also needs to increase when we are fighting off an infection or an inflammation, and the same thing needs to happen when we are under stress. When we deprive ourselves of sleep, the production of these beneficial proteins will be lowered, and we might suffer the consequences of a less-prepared immune system. Another thing that happens when we don’t get enough sleep is that some of the antibodies that help us fight infections are also reduced, and we are thus left with lowered defenses. When we are consistently sleep-deprived, we are also at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and a whole host of other illnesses, as our body can no longer function as it would if we allowed it proper rest.
How much sleep do I need?
This is a very common question we can’t always answer simply. In most cases, though, a healthy adult will need around 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. On the other hand, if you have a physically demanding job, are working out a lot, or are under more stress than usual, you might need a bit more. Also, forget about sleeping a couple of extra hours on the weekend to make up for staying up late during the week – you can’t repay a sleep debt that way. The only right way to do it is to focus on having a consistent routine. The quality of your sleep is also very important. If you don’t sleep well, you will not be waking up refreshed and rejuvenated. You’ll likely end up getting out of bed in the morning just as tired as you were when you went to sleep the night before.
How can I get the sleep I need?
The first thing you want to do is get into a good sleeping schedule. Make sure it fits your particular lifestyle and your needs, and try to be as consistent in practicing it as you can. You will also want to invest in a quality mattress, one that fits your sleeping habits, and that can help your body relax and drift off to deep sleep more easily. If you keep tossing and turning, or wake up with back pain, your mattress probably doesn’t suit you. You should also invest in a quality and personalized evening and morning routine. The former is there to help you clear your mind before bed and help you fall asleep, while the latter is aimed at helping you get out of bed more easily and preparing you for the day ahead. You will, of course, want to create these routines based on your schedule and lifestyle, but some of the more general rules you should apply include:
- setting optimal temperatures in your bedroom
- reducing screen time before bed
- going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
- getting up early enough to do your morning chores without a rush
Once you have all of this down, you will need some practice and some time to get yourself into the routine, and the routine into your system. Once that has been accomplished, you’ll start to notice the benefits it has not only on the quality of your sleep, but also the quality of your lifestyle overall.
Your immunity depends a lot on the way you sleep. So instead of giving up your rest, focus your energy on getting the sleep you need – and notice how your life gets better the longer you keep at it.