As we seek ways to take care of ourselves, consider some studies that demonstrate how sleep is a key contributor for a strong immune system.
When it comes to bolstering our immune system, the best dosage for a sleep prescription may be a full 8 hours of sleep each night. A research study out of the United States suggests the length of time and sleep efficiency are critical to health and immunity. Among the study’s participants, those who got fewer than 7 hours of sleep were less able to ward off the symptoms of the common cold than those who got 8 hours or more of sleep. Based on results from the study, if you are regularly sleeping less than 7 hours nightly, you may be 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold.1 (Keep in mind, though, that for adults, trying to sleep as much as 9 or 10 hours per night may backfire, resulting in difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.)2
Other studies also demonstrate that sleep is essential to immune system function.
For example, a small but interesting study in the U.S. compared blood samples from 11 sets of identical twins. The sibling who slept less out of each pair had the weaker immune system.3
Finally, a study out of Germany suggests that getting enough sleep is important to the efficacy of the body’s T cells, which are immune cells that protect against harmful pathogens.4
There are many reasons why we don’t get enough sleep; chronic sleep deprivation can be seen as an unspecific state of chronic stress, which impacts general health. In the end, compromised immune system function may be among the adverse effects of chronic sleep deprivation.
What can you do to promote sleep?
Try to go to bed and wake at a similar time daily; this can help reinforce your body’s sleep-wake rhythm.
Create a cozy nest.
Make sure your bed mattress and pillows feel comfortable. Set your room dark, and comfortable but cool temperature. Be sure your sleeping space is quiet; use white noise to filter out distracting sounds.
Move your body.
Regular physical activity can promote sleep. Take your routine outdoors for added health benefit.
Notice your nutrition.
Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol may interrupt a good night’s sleep. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break, skip the water cooler a few hours before bedtime. Avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. The discomfort feeling from overeating might disrupt sleep. Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of whole foods, plants, veggies, and fruits. There may be a link between micronutrient intake and sleep patterns, especially for those who are struggling with sleep disorders. More research is needed to understand these links. Studies suggest a diet consisting of adequate amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and calcium may enhance sleep.5
Seek a sleep app.
There are tools and resources that can help you facilitate sound sleeping. Apps can guide you through meditation, mental and emotional exercises, or provide soothing sounds to ease you to sleep.
Waive your worries.
Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime, not at bedtime. Journal what is on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow. Research stress management techniques to find coping strategies that will help you to calm your mind. Seek support. Know when to contact your healthcare provider. If you are struggling with more than an occasional restless evening, contact your provider. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve. Signs of poor sleep quality include never feeling rested (even after a full night of sleep), repeatedly waking up during the night, snoring, or waking up gasping for air. There are interventions that can help. Seek professional help if you are struggling with your sleep.
1 Sarah Frank, Kelli Gonzalez, Lorraine Lee-Ang, Marielle C. Young, Martha Tamez, and Josiemer Mattei, “Diet and Sleep Physiology: Public Health and Clinical Implications,” August 11, 2017.
2 ScienceDaily, “Chronic sleep deprivation suppresses immune system,” January 27, 2017.
3 Maria Cohut, “How sleep can boost your body’s immune response,” MedicalNewsToday, February 13, 2019.
4 Sheldon Cohen, William J. Doyle, and Cuneyt M. Alper, “Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold,” JAMA Network, January 12, 2009.
5 Eric J. Olson, “Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?,” Mayo Clinic.