A sleepless night can leave you sapped of energy, making it difficult to get through the day. Recent studies into the benefits of good sleep suggest that those evenings spent tossing and turning rather than snoozing can also negatively impact your health over time. One question that scientists seek to answer is, “Does sleep help your immune system?” Results of the latest research suggest that there is a connection between adequate sleep and immune function.
How Your Immune System Works
Your immune system acts as your body’s defense against illness and disease. Multiple cells and proteins play a role in the immune activity, working together to respond to threats like bacteria and viruses. Your immune system also drives the healing process following a wound or injury. The immune system function is a delicate balancing act. Your body needs to respond when needed without overreacting quickly.
Components of the Immune System
The immune system has many key components, including:
- WHITE BLOOD CELLS – One of the most critical components of the immune system is the leukocyte or white blood cell. It works like a guard, recognizing a foreign pathogen (a potentially harmful microorganism) and then attacking and eliminating it. Upon coming in contact with a pathogen, white blood cell activity stimulates the release of immune system chemicals.
- HISTAMINE – In the presence of a pathogen, this immune system chemical sends out signals that increase blood flow to affected areas, jump-starting immune response. The chemical is the primary driver of inflammation, which plays an essential role in healing. When the body mistakes a harmless foreign substance for something dangerous, histamine causes unwanted responses like hay fever and food allergies.
- CYTOKINES – These proteins are produced throughout your body. When an immune system response is required, they act as messengers, helping to set off the release of other chemicals and proteins to fight the threat.
Types of Immune System Activity
Immune system activity is broken down into two main categories:
- INNATE – Your innate immune system response is what your body knows how to do from birth.
- ADAPTIVE – Your adaptive or acquired immune system response is learned over time. Your body can develop adaptive immunity after becoming exposed to a pathogen or receiving a vaccine.
How Sleep Impacts Your Immune System
Studies indicate that support for both types of immune function is among the health benefits of sleep. During your nightly sleep cycle, immune system activity increases. More cytokines, small proteins crucial in controlling immunize system cells’ activity, are produced, causing mild inflammation that powers wound repair and assists with innate immunity.
When you’re not sick or recovering from an injury, this immune activity may bolster your adaptive immunity as well. In other words, much of your immune system’s learning likely takes place while you slumber. Experts are currently examining the reasons for this phenomenon but believe it may have to do with decreased demands on your body or the assistance of the sleep chemical melatonin.
Scientific inquiry identifies improved vaccine effects as one of the benefits of sleep. One study found that individuals who did not get enough sleep at night had a decreased immune response to vaccines for hepatitis and swine flu. Some of these people even needed an extra dose to gain the level of immunity that their well-rested counterparts achieved.
If you suffer from allergies, reducing symptoms maybe another one of the benefits of getting enough sleep. Research has uncovered a potential link between circadian rhythms (your body’s natural sleep-wake clock) and allergies. The findings show that people whose rhythms are disrupted by poor sleep are far more likely to have allergic reactions.
Sleep Deprivation Health Risks
In addition to potentially hindering your immune function, sleep deprivation may pose many health risks. Some potential side effects of sleep deprivation over time include an increased risk of:
- Many types of infections
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurogenerative diseases
Short-term sleep deprivation symptoms can also impact your health and well-being. Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, mood swings, and low energy levels are common signs of a lack of sleep.
If learning about the connection between sleep and immune system has you wondering, “How much sleep do I need?” The best advice is to consult your doctor for a recommendation based on your age and health profile. Generally, adults over the age of 18 need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Ensuring that you get the right amount of rest can help you avoid sleep deprivation effects that impact your immune system and the rest of your body.
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