After a night of too little—or no—sleep, have you ever noticed that you feel completely run down or almost like you’re getting sick? Is your head or body aching? Does your nose start to run?
Familiar feeling? Well, it’s not in your head. The way you’re feeling is supported by science.
Research now shows that too little sleep compromises our immune system. On the mornings you feel sick after a sleepless night, you aren’t imagining things. In fact, you aren’t just feeling sick—you could actually be getting sick. Sleep is so crucial to our health that it affects every part of our wellbeing.
The Power of a Sleepless Night
Sleep is a necessity. But do you know how many hours of sleep you need based on your age or what effect too little sleep has on your body?
According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology, “Our capacity to remain healthy is badly affected by loss of sleep.” You may already know from personal experience that persistent sleep loss results in uncomfortable side effects including irritability, blood sugar swings, and difficulty concentrating, which are just some of the things we feel after a night or two of not getting enough rest.
Over a longer period of time, sleeplessness carries even greater consequences for our health if it isn’t addressed. Heart attack, stroke, depression, psychiatric disorders, and immune system deficiencies are just some of the most devastating side effects of poor sleep.
The Consequences of Sleeplessness on Immunity
Our immune system is our first and best defense against illness.
Like the rest of our health, our immune system functions best when we get enough quality rest. Ongoing sleep loss actually lowers our body’s ability to create the antibodies that are critical for fighting off infections and keeping us healthy. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.”
When we sleep, our bodies produce proteins called cytokines. These cytokines naturally increase when we’re fighting off infection, inflammation, or stress. If we don’t get the rest we need, then our bodies can’t create the required cytokines, which in turn makes us vulnerable to illness. Getting sufficient sleep—seven to eight hours for adults—actually strengthens our immune system.
While we can do other helpful things to strengthen our immune system like washing our hands or taking vitamins, nothing can replace the value of good sleep. When our sleep suffers, our ability to fight off common colds and illnesses does too, leaving us most susceptible to sickness.
Next Steps for a Better Night’s Rest
Ready for some good news? To the degree that persistent sleep loss hurts your immune system, improved sleep habits can make your immune system healthier. And thankfully there are ways to help you get better sleep right away.
Start by going to bed and getting up at the same time so that your body’s circadian rhythm is working on a habitual loop. Next, adjust the temperature in your bedroom. Research shows that simply cooling your bedroom can have a positive impact on your rest. Finally, do what you can to relax each evening before bed. Try taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to music. Avoid stress, alcohol, and blue lights as much as possible before drifting off to dreamland.
The bottom line is that healthy rest is within your reach. Don’t give up!