Sleep and the Immune System

by Bethany Kelsey | July 14, 2020, 10:33 AM

Purpose of Sleep

We discussed the purpose of the immune system as protecting the body from harmful elements.  Are you familiar, though, with the purpose of sleep?  

“Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times -- is as essential to survival as food and water…. Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery.  Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance…. Sleep is a complex and dynamic process that affects how you function in ways scientists are now beginning to understand.”1 

Sleep + Immune Function 

Sleep and immune system function possess an interesting relationship.  The relationship is defined as “bidirectional”.  Simply stated, the relationship flows in both directions.  

Let’s look at this bidirectional relationship.  

Immune Function → Sleep:   When the immune system is activated (strong and/or long activation), sleep quality changes (fatigue/disturbed sleep).  

Sleep → Immune Function:  When sleep is chronically insufficient, immune function is weakened.   

Science Meets You

Science is fun, but will you take a moment to make this personal?  Think about the last time you were sick.  Were you fatigued?  Did you sleep more?  Now, think about the last time you were chronically sleep deprived.  Did you experience any tell-tale signs of sickness?  Those experiences are the sleep:immune function bidirectional relationship at work!   

Time to Sleep!

We know a lack of sleep hurts the immune system.  Is there, though, a right amount of sleep that helps the immune system?  Yes!  In the broadest, sweeping generality, adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per day.  To find your sleep need, ask yourself these questions.

1. How long does it take you to fall asleep?  If more than 20 minutes is required, you may be sleeping too much.

2.  Do you need an alarm clock to wake up?  If you struggle to wake, your body may require more sleep.

3.  How do you feel?  This question is the most important.  If you feel tired, allow yourself the space to sleep.  If you are awake, do not force sleep.

Jordan and I speak often of the mind-body connection.  Sleep is a powerful place to practice that connection.  Would you be gracious towards yourself and truly listen to what your body needs for sleep?  Your immune system, your mental health, and your physical health will thank you!  

Until next time, Bethany and Jordan

Brain Basics:  Understanding Sleep

The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease

3 Good Sleep Habits

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