The Sleep & Immune System Link: How Good Sleep Supports the Immune System

Feb 18, 2022 Immune System Sleep Tips Wellblends

The Sleep & Immune System Link: How Good Sleep Supports the Immune System

Quick Health Scoop

  • For most adults, getting adequate sleep means at least seven hours a night on a regular basis
  • Consistent, high-quality sleep benefits both your physical and mental health—with a strong immunity-sleep connection
  • Getting sound sleep on a regular basis supports your immune system 
  • Poor sleep, especially chronic sleep deprivation, may have negative effects on your health

Just like eating healthy and exercising regularly, getting enough sleep should top the list of good-for-you habits to incorporate into your healthy lifestyle. Common sense tells you that you simply feel better when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Your mind seems sharper, your body feels more energized, and your mood is lifted when you wake up feeling rested. 

But do you ever wonder how sleep affects your immune system? For instance, does sleep help the immune system? Perhaps more importantly, how does lack of sleep affect the immune system?

Whether you’re trying to keep healthy during the winter months or just want to feel good year round, you need to understand how sleep affects your immune system.

Let’s dig into what the research says about the sleep and immune system link. 

How Does Sleep Help the Immune System?

As a complex biological process, sleep helps you feel rested and stay healthy. Although the amount of good quality sleep you need every night varies by age, most adults regularly need seven or more hours a night. [1]

Getting adequate shut-eye on a regular basis affects nearly every system in the body, delivering a host of benefits, such as: [1,2]

  • Improves your brain function (clear thinking, better memory, improved concentration and decision-making
  • Supports immune system
  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • Better stress management
  • Repairs cells
  • Improves your mood
  • Helps you get along better with others

So, can sleep affect immune health? Yes, a strong connection exists between sleep and immune health! Getting sound sleep on a regular basis supports your immune system, which paves the way for effective immune function. Specifically, how is the immune system supported by sleep? Sleep and the circadian system play important roles in regulating a variety of immunological processes.[3] Getting adequate, high-quality sleep supports a well-balanced immune defense that allows your body to maintain both innate (immediate) and adaptive (learned) immune health; activate efficient responses to vaccines; and trigger less severe allergic reactions. [4]

In particular, research shows that getting good quality sleep can improve the functioning of  certain immune cells called T cells.[5] These immune cells work by activating a sticky protein (called integrins) when they identify. This then allows T cells to activate the desired immune response to defend against antigens or foreign substances.[6] 

Learn More: How Does the Immune System Work?

Does oversleeping weaken your immune system? It could, especially if it’s chronic. First, oversleeping can indicate underlying health issues, so if this happens regularly, talk with your doctor.  Left unchecked, continuously oversleeping can raise your risk for fatigue, headaches, and other more serious health conditions.[7]

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

See the graphic below to see how much sleep is recommended by age.

how much sleep do I need

What Weakens the Immune System? 

For starters, lack of a good night’s sleep can affect the body in a variety of ways, ranging from short-term to long-term health problems: [2,6,8]

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Depressed or anxious mood
  • Relationship problems
  • Lapses in concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased performance, including your ability to think clearly and react quickly
  • Weakened immune system

So, can lack of sleep have negative effect on the immune system? Yes, especially when you’re chronically sleep-deprived, as this decreases your immune system and makes you more susceptible to viruses.[10] It’s also associated with both short-term illnesses and the risk of chronic diseases. [2,4] 

Besides sleep, what weakens the immune system? Stress is definitely a factor in weakening your immunity, as well as certain medications, infections, and autoimmune conditions.

How Can I Help Support My Immune System? 

Fortunately, you can do a lot to improve your sleep and support your immune system! For starters, follow these guidelines: [9]

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Practice good “sleep hygiene” habits such as keeping a consistent schedule, reducing noise, and limiting screen time before bed
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain healthy relationships with open communication
  • Make time to enjoy hobbies
  • Practice relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga

The Bottom Line

The sleep-immune system connection is important to understand. Consistently getting enough high-quality sleep delivers a variety of benefits to both your physical and mental health. Most adults should aim for at least seven hours every night. Ensuring you get adequate sleep on a regular basis supports your immune system. Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your healthcare provider for more information. 

References

  1. USDHHS MyHealthFinder. “Get Enough Sleep.” July 8, 2021. Accessed on: January 7, 2022.  https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep#panel-2 
  2. Medline. “Healthy Sleep.” December 28, 2021. Accessed on: January 7, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.html 
  3. European Journal of Physiology. “Sleep and immune function.” November 10, 2011. Accessed on: January 7, 2022.  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00424-011-1044-0 
  4. Sleep Foundation. “How Sleep Affects Immunity.” November 19, 2020. Accessed on: January 7, 2022.  https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/how-sleep-affects-immunity 
  5. Journal of Experimental Medicine. “Gαs-coupled receptor signaling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells.” February 12, 2019. Accessed on: January 7, 2022.  https://rupress.org/jem/article/216/3/517/120367/G-s-coupled-receptor-signaling-and-sleep-regulate
  6. Healthline. “How Sleep Strengthens Your Immune System.” February 20, 2019. Accessed on: January 7, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-sleep-bolsters-your-immune-system#The-importance-of-T-cells 
  7. Sleep.org. “Is it Possible to Get Too Much Sleep?” March 12, 2021. Accessed on: January 7, 2022. https://www.sleep.org/sleep-questions/is-it-possible-to-get-too-much-sleep/ 
  8. Columbia University. “Sleep.” 2022. Accessed on: January 7, 2022. https://health.columbia.edu/content/sleep 
  9. Mayo Clinic. “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” July 8, 2021. Accessed on: December 28, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Lynn M. Laboranti, RD

Science and Health Educator

Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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