Did you know that a good night’s sleep is one of the best steps you can take to improve your immune system? Here’s why…
We’re all aware of just how important sleep is for our health – so important, in fact, that the government are set to offer guidance on the daily recommended allowance, as they do with other health essentials, such as vitamins and minerals. Sleep offers so many benefits to our overall wellbeing, but we’re just not getting enough of it – “40 percent of Brits sleep for only six hours or less per night, so many are missing out on the vital rest they need to remain happy and healthy,” says Healthspan medical director Dr Sarah Brewer. So, how does this relate to immunity? Well, it turns out that fatigue is not the only side effect of sleep deprivation, as Dr Sarah explains. “Insufficient or poor quality rest can also suppress the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness or disease.” Read on to find out why – it might just convince you to have an early night…
“One of the fundamental ways that sleep affects immunity is through the migration of immune cells,” explains Dr Sarah. “Research has shown that sleep resets the immune system by reducing the number of immune cells in the bloodstream. Researchers believe that cells migrated to the lymph nodes, which play an important role in immunity as they act as filters for foreign particles. On top of this, the study also found that as little as one night without sleep was enough to significantly alter the immune system overnight.” Scary stuff, right?
Another way that sleep influences the immune system is through the gut. “Around 70-80 percent of the immune system is governed by the digestive tract and, like any system in the body, the gut uses sleep to reset and repair,” reveals Dr Sarah. “Research has shown that sleep, or a lack of it, can influence the diversity of microbes found in the gut. The more diversity, the healthier the digestive tract is. These microbes play a significant role in immune health, which gives you another reason to focus on achieving a good night’s sleep.”
Sleep and mental health
Recent research has found that poor sleep can contribute to the development of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. “This means that getting plenty of rest can prove beneficial to the mind and, in turn, the immune system,” explains Dr Sarah. “When the mind is healthy, the body produces less of the stress hormones and inflammatory compounds which suppress the immune system.”
So, how much sleep do I need?
“The optimal amount of sleep for any person depends on a number of individual lifestyle factors,” says Dr Sarah. “Nonetheless, most research shows that getting at least seven hours of sleep is key for supporting a healthy immune system. However, you should make sure you’re not compromising on quality. If you wake up every hour for those seven hours, your body won’t get the deep rest it needs to be healthy. That’s why it’s just as important to focus on sleep quality, as well as quantity.”