Sleep & immunity

November 30, 2020
Sleep & immunity

Arianna Huffington, the ‘Thrive’ guru and the wise woman behind the ‘Sleep Revolution’ speaks about ‘Sleeping our way to the top’ in the modern feminist sense. We all have in the past worn our sleep deprivation or functioning on 4 or 5 hours sleep as a badge of honor and power. While actually data shows that if you are not regularly getting up for 7 to 9 hours sleep nightly you will have cognitive impairment equivalent of being just under legally drunk! This impairment increases the longer you're awake. To increase the decline, it is proven that creativity and performance are affected by sleep deprivation too.

So, how else is our body as a whole affected by a lack of regular sleep? It affects our brain power, hormone function and weight management to name a few effects.

“Studies have shown that just a week of sleep deprivation can cause significant alterations in glucose tolerance. Impaired glucose tolerance can make you more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, studies have shown that people who slept less than five to six hours per night were twice as likely to develop diabetes.” Studies have shown the greatest risk for obesity to be when one gets two to four hours of sleep per night, and the lowest BMI was associated with people who got an average of 7.7 hours of sleep per night. Furthermore, the appetite-suppressing hormone, leptin is produced in abundance at night but if you are not getting enough sleep you are more likely to wake hungry. Research shows in this state you will tend to reach for carbohydrate-dense, sweet, and salty foods when sleep deprived. In conclusion, your glucose tolerance is impaired, you’re hungrier, and you’re reaching for all the wrong things to eat. Not the ideal foundation for a healthy and strong immune system.

The science

When we allow sleep deprivation we opt in for a depleted immune system. Here is the science - there are specific types of immune cells, namely cytotoxic natural killer cells and CTL, floating around in your body that peak in numbers during the day. They fight off foreign antigens and repair damaged tissue during the day when tissue damage is most likely to occur.

At night, during the early stages of sleep and particularly during slow wave sleep (SWS), different types of immune cells peak in concentration especially T helper cells, prolactin and growth hormone all peak, while cortisol and catecholamine productions drops. All of these changes make for an environment that supports inflammation. When we get adequate amounts of sleep this inflammatory state supports the immune system by enhancing the body’s ability to form an initial immune response to invading bugs and infections. It also enhances long-term immune function. When we are getting enough sleep our body has the ability to remember these dangerous invaders over a long period of time. Allowing this healthy inflammatory system, when you’re getting enough sleep, to remain balanced by the anti-inflammatory hormone, cortisol.

Whenever you chronically skimp on sleep, the inflammatory state is unbalanced. Blood levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker used by medical professionals to predict the risk of heart disease and diagnose general inflammation, go up when sleep is too short for a prolonged period of time. This inflammatory state resulting from a lack of sleep has been shown to do nothing to support the immune system, only to impede its function, and put the body at risk of infection, chronic diseases, and cancer.

Connection proven

The University of Helsinki dived deeper into this theory in their 2013 “Sleep and Immunity study”. They concluded that the “results corroborate the idea that sleep does not only impact brain function but also interacts with our immune system and metabolism. Sleep loss causes changes to the system that regulates our immune defense. Some of these changes appear to be long-term, and may contribute to the development of diseases that have been linked to sleep deprivation.”

So, how much sleep is enough? Generally speaking, adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night and children and teens need more ranging from 9 to 11 hours. If you wake cold, weak and/or tired your body is not getting enough sleep or maybe it is not getting enough sleep regularly.

Another aspect to consider in this world of sleep for immunity is the different phases of sleep. The phases of sleep are responsible for different functions within our bodies.  The first and second phases involve settling in, resulting in rhythmic breathing and a lowered body temperature.  The third and fourth stages are when our bodies are working to restore themselves.  During this time our muscles relax and the blood supply going to them increases.  Our bodies use this time to repair tissue damage and grow new tissue.  Important hormones are released and our energy is renewed.  These stages appear to be a critical factor in maintaining a healthy immune system and any sleep disturbance that impacts them, impacts our health and our bodies ability to build our immune defenses.

Sleep and immunity solutions

Essential oils tend to be the first solution for ‘terrain support’ within the body. My top oils are Lemon for its incredible detoxifying effects on the body. Add a little to your glass of water each morning to help cleanse and clear out the blood, and rid the body of toxic buildup. Thieves aids in supporting the immune system especially during cold and flu season. Lavender makes my list for two reasons, firstly it will aid sleep naturally due to the high levels of sedative linalool in the essential oil. Lavender will also repair and build the white blood cells supporting the immune system. Finally, Valor essential oil is wonderful to help you sleep therefore supporting your immunity by default.

A few herbal solutions include Echinacea for its antiviral and antibacterial powers.

Astragalus contains anemia, which can improve blood counts. Add this herb to soups to fight fatigue and boost your immune system during cold and flu season.

Garlic, Ginger and Elderberry are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects and easily incorporated into your daily diet. Using superfoods to support your health in every meal is the wisest ‘prevention versus cure method available to us so let's utilize it!

Surely there is enough scientifically supported evidence here to make us all consider our sleep habits and routine. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting enough sleep regularly as a habit? Is your bedtime routine calming and meditative? Do you need some natural aids to encourage a healthy night's sleep every night? Could your weak immunity or health issues be solved or at least helped by a smarter sleep routine? Maybe it is time to start sleeping our way to the top of our health!

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