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how sleep affects our immune system

How sleep affects our immune system

The connection between health and sleep is very well known for many centuries. Sleep is an integral part of our life and the lack of it can cause both mental and physical health problems. In this post, I will talk about the importance of sleep and what you can do to stay healthy during the festive season.


During sleep, the body produces Cytokines, a type of protein that helps us fight inflammations and infections. What these proteins create is essentially an immune reaction which is vital for fighting common colds and more serious conditions. During an infection, the number of Cytokines needs to increase. That is the reason that sleep helps when we are sick. Cytokines are both produced and released to the body during sleep so lack of sleep causes a double problem. To understand the importance of these proteins, researchers found out that chronic lack of sleep can affect the effectiveness of flu vaccines. This is because the body fails to respond.

It’s advised that you sleep between 7-8 hours a day in order to keep your immune system in good shape. If you are sick, you can add naps during the day to get the extra help you need. Of course, there are many other things you can do to avoid getting sick like washing your hands frequently and eating well.

How sleep works

During sleep, the body and the brain go into ‘maintenance mode’. The immune cells for example, during sleep they get out of the circulation and they go to ‘rest’ in the lymph nodes. There, they will get ready for the next day like we do for work. The brain does a similar thing. During sleep, it will get rid of all the toxins which can lead to inflammation. Melatonin levels also rise which is a hormone that regulates wakefulness but also helps reduce the reactive oxygen species (ROS). These are molecules that can cause damage to the brain. Adrenaline and cortisol levels also drop during sleep which is very beneficial for the body. Lack of sleep not only affects our immune system but can also lead to the breakdown of immune self-tolerance. This is responsible for the development of autoimmune diseases.

How to get enough sleep

Having already talked about the importance of sleep, it would be useful to also give advice on how to get more sleep. The first thing you should do is establish a sleep routine. You should try to go to bed at around the same time every night. This will help your body fall asleep but will also increase the quality of sleep you are getting. The second thing you should do is set up the right environment for sleep. This means that you should remove any TV or laptop away from your bedroom. In this older post, I have already talked about the problems caused by Blue Light and how to avoid them. So definitely make sure you don’t look at a screen for at least half an hour before you get into bed.

If you have any questions about this post feel free to drop me a line here.