How does sleep affect your body’s internal safety mechanisms and are you getting enough sleep to boost your immune system? Despite common knowledge that adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep each night to function at full capacity, the number that we actually get has steadily dropped over time. Where 84% of all adults in the United States stuck to their recommended daily dose of zzzs back in 1942, changes in our technology, culture, and economic stability reduced that number by 2013 to a measly 59% (future census’ will show how things have changed since then, too). But what does that mean for your health? Aside from the fact that a complete lack of sleep will literally leave you dead, sleep plays a significant role in your immune system’s effectiveness. It’s imperative that in times of a pandemic/epidemic that you get enough quality sleep to boost your immune system, so you can remain as healthy as possible.
As people worldwide hunker down in self-isolation and quarantine (dictated by the government or by personal choice), it’s important to remember that your body still functions the same way—you still need to eat, remain active, and sleep. Here’s what you need to know:
How Does Your Immune System Work
Our immune system is our body’s natural defense system, designed to protect us from all sorts of sickness, from the common cold to infections and more. In short, our bodies detect foreign substances that pose a potential threat to the body (antigens) and our immune system kicks in and takes action to stop them before they take their toll on your health. In the case of COVID-19, our bodies are dealing with a new viral strain that our bodies have not adapted to eradicate, and we have not collectively discovered and distributed a vaccine yet. The effect of viruses differs between age and health groups—depending on a wide variety of factors, you may be more or less susceptible to the dangers of viral infection.
How to Boost Your Immune System
Your immune system is always there to defend you against devastating microorganisms… but what have you done for your immune system lately? There’s no quick fix for alleviating sickness entirely, but there are precautions you can take to make sure your immune system is generally healthy and ready for potential invasion—it’s a system, not a single entity. Achieving a harmonious balance doesn’t require a simple pill, it requires a lifestyle change. Here are several healthy choices you can make that’ll affect your immune system:
Exercise Regularly and Maintain a Healthy Weight — It’s no secret that one of the pillars to healthy living is regular exercise and a balanced diet. Working out lowers your blood pressure, improves your cardiovascular health, and helps your circulation, allowing cells integral to a healthy system to move freely through your body. Do some jumping jacks and assisted push-ups, no equipment required!
Get Adequate, Quality Sleep — How does sleep affect your immune system? It’s not necessarily that *more* sleep will prevent you from getting sick, it’s that getting an inadequate amount of sleep means your immune system isn’t able to make enough of the proteins that target inflammation and infection (called cytokines). When you sleep, your body goes into a repair phase, re-building not just muscle tissue but rewiring important neural connections, cleaning your blood, and storing memories. Because our bodies need to alternate between REM and NREM sleep each night, we need long periods of rest, shifting between the different sleep phases to maintain a strong immune system.
Take Steps to Avoid Infection — Wash your hands! Soap has existed since 2200 BC and it’s still just as useful as ever. In order to flatten the curve (or slow an epidemic from spreading quickly), frequent hand washing and sanitizing helps kill viral particles. Viruses thrive when passed from one hand to another, and from your hand to your body through the mouth, nose, eyes, or… wherever. Prioritize hand-washing during times of sickness—it not only gets viruses off your hands and down the drain but actually kills them.
Stress and Immunity — Stress can play a powerful role in not only your ability to efficiently produce antibodies but your ability to sleep as well, furthering the difficulty of immune system recovery. While stress is subjective, taking measures to relax, meditate, or wind down can help your immune system stay strong.
Snoring Adversely Affects Sleep Quality
Simply put, snoring is a barrier to good quality sleep, which puts you at higher risk for a susceptible or weakened immune system. Snoring, caused by the upper airway muscles relaxing and partially closing while you sleep, can cause your sleep quality to dramatically decrease. Using sleep to boost your immune system can only go so far if the quality of your sleep is being impacted—common snoring can lead to waking up in the middle of the night (disrupting sleep), next-day fatigue, and even morning headaches. When snoring results in the more serious obstructive sleep apnea, you may choke, feel chest pains, or completely stop breathing while sleeping, causing disruption.
Snoring and sleep apnea can hinder your ability to get the necessary deep sleep and REM sleep you need for physical and mental restoration, therefore impacting your immune system’s ability to function at peak ability. Sleep and the immune system go hand in hand. With snoring as an interruption to functional sleep, it’s important to find a snoring solution that can work for you.
The Sleep and Immune System Balancing Act
How does sleep affect your immune system? Diwakar Balachandran, MD, and director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas put it simply: “A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived and inflammatory cytokines go up. … This could potentially lead to a greater risk of developing a cold or flu… The more all-nighters you pull, the more likely you are to decrease your body’s ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections.” If you’re thinking about utilizing sleep to boost your immune system, do it. It’s harder to find yourself getting the right amount of sleep than it is to find yourself lacking sleep, so hop in bed and start building up your antibodies!