Sleep – How important is it? (Part 1 of 2)

15 May

Sleep – How important is it? (Part 1 of 2)

In part 1 of our look at sleep and the immune system, we’ll focus on sleep itself. It is one of the most powerful things there is for supporting good health, and it’s free. In part 2, we’ll examine the link between sleep and immune function.

We may often consider diet and exercise as critical factors for maintaining good health, but much less frequently are we likely to think of our sleep as an instrumental part of maintaining good health, either for now and for future maintenance of health. Sleep is essential to support life and to function well. It is so important that we spend approximately a third of our lives asleep, and there is a good reason for that. It supports the functioning of many of our biological, physical and neurological processes. Without sleep, we wouldn’t survive very long.

Poor sleep quality can have a significant adverse effect on both our mental and physical health. Unfortunately, we often become so used to the impact on our day to day function that we don’t recognise the consequences of inadequate sleep. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night has seen associations with increased susceptibility to infectious diseases (1). Poor sleep can decrease our performance alertness (2). It has also been associated with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, increased cancer risk for some cancers, neuro-degeneration, mental health issues, low mood, reduced stress resilience, and a reduced life expectancy (3). Research suggests one in three of us don’t get sufficient sleep (4), often seen as around seven and a half hours of regular sleep a night.

Sleep helps our body to repair itself. Mathew Walker, a neuroscientist, states that “sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”(4).

Here are a few tips to help optimise sleep:

  • Establish a regular sleeping and waking pattern - even at weekends
  • Aim to give yourself around 8 hr sleep each night
  • Avoid heavy meals within at least 3 hrs before bed
  • Enhance your sleeping environment – dark/cool/quiet.
  • Try Meditation/deep breathing exercises before bed for relaxation.

If you’ve tried these, but still having problems:

Other factors that are adversely affecting you’re the quality of your sleep, such as imbalances of blood sugar, hormones or stress responses, and maybe affecting your quality of sleep, which needs further investigation. Seeing a functional medicine practitioner about your sleep may help optimise your sleep, immune system, and your health. 

 Nigel Fawthrop is a nutritional therapist based in Edinburgh. 



  1. Prather AA. Better together: Sleep, circadian genes, and immunity. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Academic Press Inc.; 2020.
  2. Abrams RM. Sleep Deprivation. Vol. 42, Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. W.B. Saunders; 2015. p. 493–506.
  3. Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2019 Jul 1;99(3):1325–80.
  4. Anon. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health - NHS [Internet]. NHS - Live well. 2018 [cited 2020 May 12]. Available from:
  5. Matthew Walker. Why We Sleep. Penguin Books; 2017.
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