What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? Perhaps you’re in such a bad mood the next day that no one wants to get within five feet of you, or maybe you find yourself staring at a blank computer screen at work yawning endlessly as your productivity plummets. However, there are also some less-obvious effects taking place when you don’t sleep well that could lead to big trouble down the line.
A recent study carried out by researchers from Germany’s University of Tubingen found that getting a good night’s sleep enhances the effectiveness of special immune cells known as T cells. These cells recognize foreign bodies like pathogens as they enter your system, activating proteins that enable them to attach to their targets and fight them.
The researchers took T cells from volunteers, some of whom slept and others who stayed awake. They discovered that the T cells of people who were sleeping had higher amounts of integrin activation than those who were awake, leading them to conclude that sleep positively impacts the correct functioning of T cells as part of your immune system response. Their findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
The study’s authors remarked that their finding is especially useful given the high prevalence of sleep disorders and other conditions that are characterized by poor sleep, such as chronic stress, aging, depression and shift work. They believe their findings could also lead to the development of new ways to improve T cells’ ability to latch onto their targets, which could be useful in applications like cancer immunotherapy.
Other studies have uncovered different ways that sleep can enhance your immunity. For example, it is known that when you don’t get sufficient sleep, your body will create fewer cytokines, which target infections and inflammation. Meanwhile, a 2015 study published in the journal Sleep showed that a shorter sleep duration was linked to greater risk of getting a cold after participants were intentionally exposed to the cold virus.
There are several other benefits to getting enough sleep. For example, it can enable your body to regulate your blood pressure, which improves your heart health. Poor sleep patterns have also been linked to obesity and an inability to regulate your food intake. Sleep deprivation can even contribute to diseases related to inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Are you getting enough good-quality sleep each night?
How much sleep is enough to keep your immune system running optimally? Adults should aim for seven hours of sleep per night at a minimum, while those older than 60 should try to get eight or nine hours of sleep if possible. Keep in mind that it is not just the number of hours you sleep that are important, however; the quality of your sleep is equally essential. If you find yourself waking up during the night or not feeling rested despite getting the recommended number of hours of sleep, you need to work on your sleep quality.
You can improve your sleep by trying to go to bed around the same time every night. Do your best to keep your stress down during the day with the help of exercise or meditation, and try to stay active and spend time outdoors during the day. It’s also important to reduce your screen time and exposure to the blue light emitted by smartphones and other devices in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Ensuring you get enough sleep is only one part of keeping your immune system in top shape. Don’t forget to eat a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly!
Sources for this article include:
- Sleep it off: Research explains why sleep is so important for your immune system
- Learn All About Sleep and Its Connection with Your Immune System (Opinion)
- Higher vitamin D levels, stronger immune response protect children from COVID-19
- Are you constantly tired? Eating well and improving sleep quality will give you an energy boost