Immune System 101 (Part 5): Sleep and Your Immune System

Immune System series

A recap on how we should look at immune health 

1.  Your immune system is an amazing, intelligent tool for protecting you from viruses and disease.  

2.  It does not need you to ‘boost it’ or ‘supercharge it’.  In fact, doing so can make you very sick. 

3.  To really help your immune system work to its full potential you should do things that won’t weaken your immune system or leave you unnecessarily vulnerable. 

In this article we look at the role of sleep in supporting our immune system.  Spoiler alert:  Sleep is vital for maintaining an excellent immune system.   

If you don’t snooze, you will lose. 

Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.  Take for example a 2015 study which found that regularly sleeping only six hours per night makes you four times more likely to catch a cold compared to sleeping seven hours per night. And the risk gets even worse if you sleep fewer than five hours per night on a consistent basis.  

This is because your immune system releases proteins called cytokines when you are sleeping.  Cykotines help your immune system to fight of foreign invaders such as viruses and infections.  Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.  

How much sleep do you need?

Let’s speak to the adults in the room.  You will need 7-8 hours of sleep per night,  preferably between 10pm-6am (or thereabouts) because these are the optimal times for physical and mental repair.  If you are training really hard, or suffering with an illness you may need more.  Your body will let you know but do speak to your doctor for their recommendations. 

Teenagers may need 9-10 hours sleep and kids may require 10+ hours sleep.  

How can you sleep better?

If getting to sleep is a real challenge for you then here are a few tips that will really help:

a)  Take magnesium an hour before bed:  Magnesium helps the brain to release the chemicals that help to relax everything.  It helps us switch our minds off, feel calmer and takes us into a deeper level of sleep.  Use a good quality supplement or even treat yourself to Epsom Salt Bath. 

b)  Do not have any caffeine or alcohol:  Ignore this if you are one of those special people that can drink a coffee before bed and instantly fall asleep (we all know at least one).  If you are a normal person cut caffeine drinks (coffee, diet sodas, some teas, energy drinks) out by 3pm at the latest.  Have a water or herbal tea instead.  

c)  Develop a sleep routine:  As tempting as it may be to keep watching the latest netflix series until gone midnight, go to bed and wake up at the same time every night if you can.  This is not realistic if you have young kids but try to keep as consistent in your sleeping habits as you can.  If you do your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed (making you sleepy) and stimulating hormones to help wake you up (you will wake up more refreshed).  

d)  Do a brain dump:  Write all the things on your mind down e.g. the thing you wanted to say to that person that hurt you, the work you need to do in the morning, the bill you need to pay, you worries about money etc.  This clears your brain.  Then do a list of things that you are thankful for.  St Paul wrote, ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things’.  Our co-founder Chris does this every night and he swears by it.  

e)  Turn off your electronics:  Our phones, tablets, TV, computers etc simulate our brains.  When the lights dim down our brains produce a hormone called ‘melatonin’ which gives us deep sleep.  If we have too much light at night, we reduce that and our sleep quality reduces.   

g)  Do something that makes you smile:  Go for a relaxing walk, watch a movie (try to end it by 9pm though, see above!), read a book or do anything else that brings you joy and de-stresses you.  As long as it doesn’t involve wine, coffee or anything that sets your cortisol off (e.g. the latest Spy Thriller at 9pm) your sleep will be improved. 

Sleep well folks! 

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