Sleep and Immunity

Sleep plays an important role in your health and that of your immune system, and a lack of sleep may have an adverse effect. Naturopath Jodi Van Dyk explains.

Sleep and Immunity

Of all the things we do to keep our bodies in top shape, like eating healthy and exercising, sleep is an area that is often overlooked.

A little bit of sleep loss probably won’t be detrimental to your health in the short term, but it may make you feel tired, grumpy and irritable.

Once sleep deprivation occurs with greater frequency, however, it can begin to have a serious impact on your health – and your immune system.

Night moves

Sleep is the time when our body is able to effectively “shut down”.

There are several different types of sleep:

    Shallow (also known as stages 1 and 2) sleep, where you are easily awakened Deep sleep (also known as stages 3 and 4 or ‘slow wave sleep’) Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep (our eyes dart around and dreams happen)

In normal sleep we go through these stages throughout the night, starting with shallow sleep, moving down into deep sleep and then REM and repeating the cycle every ninety minutes.

Sleep as a restorative

During deep sleep, parts of the brain associated with arousal activity and muscle movement slow down. Deep sleep is restorative, meaning it’s a time for our body to repair and rejuvenate itself. Deep sleep is predominantly a time when our stress-response is turned off.

What effect does lack of sleep have on our stress levels?

In deep sleep, our glucocorticoid levels go down. Glucocorticoids are a class of steroid hormones secreted from the adrenal glands during stress. If we are chronically sleep deprived, these stress hormones will not experience a sleep-induced decline and their levels will instead rise - and increased stress response is the result.

Lack of sleep = increased stress response. How does this affect immunity?

Some research has shown that immune response is impaired by sleep loss and that sleep disorders are commonly associated with chronic inflammatory diseases.

A good night’s sleep allows us to repair, restore and rejuvenate our bodies. Our stress response is turned off and we can relax.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important to maintain optimum health, a healthy immune system and to protect other bodily systems which begin to suffer when sleep loss is chronic.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Getting yourself into a good sleep pattern and routine is important especially for those who are poor sleepers.

    Maintain regular sleeping patterns, including on weekends. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool Use your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. Exercise regularly, aiming for at least 20-30 minutes each day. Clear your mind so you're not trying hard to fall asleep. Distract yourself by reading until you become drowsy.

References available on request