In part 1 of our look at sleep and the immune system, we focused on sleep itself. In part 2, we examine the link between sleep and immune function.
We’ve all heard that getting enough sleep is important, but what about how it supports our health and our immune system? Often, when we get ill, we may feel that we want to take to our beds and 'sleep it off.' Perhaps our bodies are trying to help us fight off the infection as efficiently as it can? Sometimes, when people try and ‘push through,' it may take longer to feel better than it might have done if they'd rested up. It’s difficult to say for sure, but anecdotally, it often seems to be the case.
Let’s look at what the science suggests, and we'll end on a few key points from some research that supports the importance of sleep for our health.
Does getting sufficient sleep have an impact on the resilience of our immune system and our health? For most, that means typically somewhere between 7-9 hours of regular sleep, per night. Might sleep influence how we are affected by an attack on our body, such as from bacteria or viruses? Or our long-term health?
Although research into the effect of sleep on our immune system is still in its infancy, there is emerging evidence that sleep is essential for our health. It suggests sleep impacts our immune system, and our immune response affects our sleep (1). Research is providing some scientific support for the anecdotal evidence mentioned initially.
This emerging evidence highlights some important considerations for our long-term health. For example:
These effects are understood to be through adversely affecting our innate immune system response. The system we can think of as our ‘first line responders’.
So, sleep appears important for our long-term health through our innate immune system.
Different research has looked at the effect of sleep in connection with our immune response to vaccination. This research relates to the efficiency of our adaptive immune response. Findings suggest that proper sleep supports the development of our adaptive immune system, particularly its ability to develop the immune system's memory. Several human studies have indicated that sufficient sleep after a vaccination doubles the immune defence response to that specific threat. The same principle may also be the case in response to infection.
So, sleep also appears to be important for the priming of our adaptive immune system. It suggests insufficient sleep may lead to reduced immune response and thus reduced future protection and higher future health risks.
A recent research paper (1), concluded by emphasising the need to educate people on the importance of good sleep habits. Here is what they said:
For information and tips to help sleep, see our blog on sleep (part 1 of 2). If these tips don't help, there may be other issues that could be contributing to sleep your problems. These may benefit from support through a functional medicine practitioner.
Nigel Fawthrop is a nutritional therapist based in Edinburgh.