Immunity and Sleep
How Sleep Affects Your Immunity
Have you ever seen the sign that reads, “Drink more coffee. You’ll get plenty of sleep when you’re dead!” I laughed out loud the first time I saw it. Mainly because it confirmed my lifestyle of busyness and going, going, going. Who has time to sleep? There is always something to get done before going to bed!
We live in a world of germs–bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites–they’re all around us, yet invisible to our naked eye. The human body itself contains trillions of microorganisms. Actually, the body has more microbes than human cells. What keeps these microbes from taking over our bodies? Are they all bad? Are we all just a bag of bugs?
The human body is a magnificent creation. All systems working together to keep the body breathing, pumping, moving, alive. One of these systems is the immune system. The immune system is one of the most important and complex systems in the body. It wards off invaders from the level of the largest organ of the body, the skin, down to the cellular level of intimidating-sounding cells like natural killer cells, macrophages, mast cells, and antibodies. And they are intimidating–their entire purpose for being is to kill any foreign cell that has entered the body. And considering the constant barrage of infectious agents we sustain on a daily basis (and now we can add COVID-19 to that barrage), it becomes apparent that maintaining and sustaining a healthy immune system is of the utmost importance for a healthy life.
The most important things to sustain a healthy immune system are adequate sleep, movement and exercise, and healthy nutrition. It seems that the American population as a whole really struggles with these. Most have sedentary lifestyles, eat the standard American diet (also known as the SAD diet, for good reason), and get an average of 6 hours of sleep per night. Since I’m a firm believer of practicing what I preach, I get daily exercise and eat a clean, organic diet. But quarantine has brought some conviction to me in the area of adequate sleep. Work, family, church, social obligations–it all piles up sometimes and simply getting in bed before midnight can be a major challenge. Not a problem when living in quarantine and unable to go to work, but when the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 am on a normal weekday work morning, opening my eyes can be downright painful. The most profound lesson of quarantine for me is that I have been running on exhaustion for a very long time! I had forgotten what it was like to feel rested.
I have learned through this experience that getting adequate sleep is just as important as eating vegetables every day and getting good exercise with a dose of sunshine! Sleep deprivation lowers the immune system’s ability to be effective. In the world of immunology, it is well known that cytokines (which are messenger hormones to call the immune system into action) is released from the immune system while sleeping. These cytokines increase in the presence of infection and inflammation in order to protect the body. If adequate sleep does not occur, adequate cytokine release does not occur either, making the body more susceptible to sickness. Also interesting to note is that antibodies (which are the cells the immune system uses to fight and kill previously exposed pathogens) are reduced in number during times of sleep deprivation. So, apparently getting enough sleep is a cornerstone of keeping the immune system functioning efficiently.
So how much sleep is enough?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for adults, 8-10 hours for teenagers, 9-11 hours for school-age children, and 11-14 hours for toddlers. Most people I know, especially in the adult category as well as busy teenagers, do not get enough sleep. At this time, when the optimal function of the immune system is paramount, it is so important to get that sleep! And what about the quality of sleep? Sleeping 7-9 hours means actually sleeping, not tossing and turning in bed, not waking up multiple times throughout the night, and especially not the poor quality sleep of sleep apnea. If you are in bed for 7-9 hours, but not sleeping, it doesn’t count. Poor quality sleep such as sleep apnea not only decreases the ability of the immune system to function, it also leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you were in bed for those 7-9 hours, yet wake up feeling just as tired as you were when you went to bed the night before; if you wake up suddenly in the night, sometimes gasping for air, if you snore so loud you disrupt your sleep partner, you should be tested for sleep apnea. Origin Dental Wellness has a very simple at-home sleep study for you. Once we have the results, we can discuss dental appliances that help with that disrupted sleep, getting your restful nights back, and boosting your immunity! And for those, like myself, that just do not get enough sleep, maybe we should start setting an alarm for going TO bed as well as getting OUT OF bed. That “one more thing” to do will be there in the morning.