Did you know that a good night's sleep is one of the best steps you can take to improve your immune system?
As we head in Autumn, and the colder months ahead, coughs, colds and chest infections are common, plus this year we have the additional threat of coronavirus. With a healthy immune system, your body is better prepared to fight off infection, saving yourself days in bed feeling under the weather.
As we age, our immune response can become reduced, leading to a greater risk of infection. Prepare early to ensure your immune system is strong and healthy ahead of those frosty days with plenty of sleep.
We are all aware of how important sleep is for our health. Sleep offers so many benefits to our overall wellbeing; it's a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. But we are just not getting enough of it – forty per cent of us Brits sleep for only six hours or less a night, so many are missing out on the rest they need to remain happy and healthy.
So how does sleep relate to our immune system?
Well, fatigue is not the only side effect of sleep deprivation. Insufficient or poor-quality rest can also suppress the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness or disease.
Still not convinced to get an early night? Here's why sleep can help …
Research has shown that sleep resets the immune system by reducing the number of immune cells in the bloodstream. Researchers believe that the immune cells migrated to the lymph nodes, which play an essential role in immunity as they act as filters for foreign particles. On top of this, the study also found that as little as one night without sleep was enough to significantly alter the immune system overnight. Scary, right?
Another way that sleep influences the immune system is through the gut. The digestive tract rules around 70-80% of the immune system and, like any system in the body, the gut uses sleep to repair and reset. Research has shown that sleep, or lack of it, can influence the diversity of microbes found in the gut. The more diversity, the healthier the digestive tract is. These microbes play a significant role in immune health, which gives you another reason to focus on achieving a good night's sleep.
Pregnancy often is associated with changes in sleep patterns, including shortened sleep, insomnia symptoms and poor sleep quality.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that getting inadequate and poor-quality sleep is linked with disruptions to pregnant women's immune systems, particularly among women with depression. These changes to the immune system could potentially have effects on the health of the baby.
Sleep disturbances can aggravate the body's inflammatory responses and cause an overproduction of cytokines, which act as signal molecules that communicate among immune cells. Researchers explained why cytokines - which are part of the body's natural immune process - could potentially be harmful.
"While cytokines are important for numerous pregnancy-related processes, excess cytokines can attack and destroy healthy cells and cause destruction of tissue in pregnant women, thereby inhibiting the ability to ward off disease."
Sleep and mental health
Recent research has found that poor sleep can contribute to the development of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. This means that getting plenty of rest can prove beneficial to the mind, and in turn, the immune system. When the mind is healthy, the body produces less of the stress hormones and inflammatory markers which suppress the immune system.
So, how much sleep do I need?
The optimal amount of sleep for each person depends on the range of individual lifestyle factors. Nonetheless, research shows that getting at least seven hours of sleep is key for supporting the immune system. However, you should make sure you're not compromising on quality. If you wake up every hour for those seven hours, your body won't get the deep rest it needs to be healthy. That's why it's just as important to focus on sleep quality, as well as quantity.
A holistic practice
Looking after our emotional and physical health is increasingly important in today's world. Prioritising time out to recharge both mind and body and replenish our natural resources is key for balancing energy throughout the body and managing stress.
Massage and reflexology have a naturally uplifting effect – in part because touch boosts the body's levels of the feel-good hormones – but it can also improve self-esteem; promote a sense of balance and harmony in the body and mind; and provide effective relief from stress.
All of these factors can ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and in turn, promote good quality, restful sleep and provide a sense of comfort that leads to enhanced wellbeing.
If you still want some help to drift off and improve your quality of sleep, then find out more about my 'Sleep Well, Feel Well series' available online.
Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise – Benjamin Franklin