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The Role Sleep Plays in Keeping Us Healthy: Sleep and Our Immune Function

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Most of us know that sleep plays a huge role in keeping us healthy which makes it paramount to stay vigilant when it comes to our sleep schedules, especially now with the current state of COVID-19. When we don’t sleep enough we reduce our immune function. But why is sleep so important for immune function?

Studies show that the overall immune system is decreased by improper sleep.  A lack of sleep can weaken immunity, increasing organism susceptibility to infection. For instance, shorter sleep durations are associated with a rise in suffering from the common cold (see this article).  Additionally, one study showed that a twin with enough sleep compared to a twin with sleep deprivation resulted in decreased immune cells in the sleep deprived twin. From this type of study, we know that sleep is important for our immune function, but there is also a plethora of research on sleep and the specifics of how it affects the immune system and immune cells.

If we look at the science of how quality sleep helps promote strong immune function we have to look at the mechanisms in the human body that ward off disease and infection.  Certain cells in the body identify intruders (like viruses, bacteria, cancer cells and more) which then create other cells that fight these intruders. Lack of sleep causes a wide range of dysregulation in all sorts of immune modulators, such as cytokines (including interleukins and NK cells), T Cells, macrophages, monocytes, and lymphocytes.  All of these cells (and many others) play an intricate and specific role in our immune system, here are a few examples.

Certain types of immune cells are produced during specific sleep cycles.  If you don’t sleep well enough to reach these cycles in sleep, certain immune cells aren’t produced. Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep!  Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond (see this article).

Another mechanism of the immune system are integrins, a type of protein that occurs inside T Cells. When T Cells recognize an infection in the body they activate integrins. The integrins protein will then mechanically attach to the infected cells and kill them. Research has found that T Cell function is much more active while we are asleep. In an article titled How Sleep Affects Your Immune System, researcher Dr. Stoyan Dimitrov reports “Because the levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and prostaglandins are low during sleep time, the stickiness of the integrins is stronger. This stickiness is important because in order for T cells to kill virus-infected cells or cancer cells, they need to get in direct contact with them, and the integrin stickiness is known to promote this contact.” T Cell function is inhibited by stress hormones.  While we are asleep, there is a decrease in stress hormones, which then allows T Cell function to be more active. 

In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that more than ⅓ of Americans weren’t getting enough sleep. Adults need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night to promote health and well being. We cannot stress enough how important a good night’s sleep is. 

A small way in which you can boost your immune function is to sleep on a comfortable mattress to increase your quality of sleep.  Sleeping on a comfortable mattress can properly support your body and reduce pain thus increasing sleep quality.  In a poll in 2011, 92% of American’s said that a comfortable mattress and pillows are important in getting a good night’s sleep. Natural latex or organic pocket coil mattresses do a great job conforming to your body, reducing pressure points and pain which can lead to a higher quality of sleep.  

In addition to mattress comfort increasing quality of sleep, research shows that sleeping with wool helps lead to deeper sleep.  See our blog post about wool and quality of sleep.  At The Natural Sleep Store most of our mattresses contain natural or organic wool. We also sell many bedding items that contain organic wool such as pillows, mattress pads, comforters and mattress toppers.