Our immune systems are incredibly complex. Each person’s response to viruses depends on several factors, from genes to lifestyle. And while you can’t control your genetic makeup, studies show that the strength of our immune system largely comes down to non-inheritable factors such as diet, exercise, stress levels, and sleep.
In the current global climate it’s important to do everything possible to bolster your immunity, stay in good health and give your body the best chance to protect itself—including getting enough quality sleep.
Below, we take a look at why a good night’s rest is crucial to boost your immune system and share some tips to help you improve your quality of sleep.
Prefer to listen in? Learn how to boost your immune system with sleep in this podcast, featuring A.H. Beard’s resident sleep expert Dr. Carmel Harrington.
How sleep affects your immune system
Sleep is essential to our survival, and one of the basic requirements for good health. It helps us maintain healthy brain function, preserves our memories, improves athletic performance, and sharpens our decision-making abilities.
However, sleep also plays a crucial role in helping our immune systems run as efficiently as possible. There’s a growing body of research that shows the very real link between sleep and the body’s ability to fight off viruses.
“Sleep plays a fundamental role in keeping us well because during sleep (when we don’t require all our energy to go into the functions of wakefulness), our immune system fires up and our natural killer cells start killing off any foreign viruses or bacteria as well as mutated cells – allowing us to fight disease both in the short and long term.”
– Dr Carmel Harrington.
One study by the University of California found that those who regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep a night were 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold than those who got 7+ hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation has also been found to decrease the ‘natural killer’ cell count in our bodies, leaving us with fewer defences to fight off any threats.
But as the old saying goes, it’s not just about quantity. The quality of shuteye we’re getting matters just as much as the hours we spend asleep.
When we sleep, our body goes through sleep cycle stages where it produces and releases an important protein called cytokine. Cytokines are essential to keep nasty viruses at bay: they tell our immune cells to head towards infections and fight them off. If we don’t get a full night’s rest, we produce fewer cytokines—meaning our bodies have fewer resources to ward off infectious diseases.
And if you’re already down with a cold, rest is absolutely vital to help your body recover. A recent study showed that getting more sleep during an infection sends a signal to the immune system to increase its defenses.
Building healthy sleep habits can help if you want to put your body’s defences in the best position possible to stave off sickness. We’ve rounded up our top ways to sleep better if you want to strengthen your immune system.
The first step to improving your sleep? Get enough of it. Nearly a third of Aussies are in sleep debt, which means not getting the ideal amount of sleep every night—putting our bodies at risk of infections like the coronavirus or the common flu.
So how much sleep is healthy? According to the Sleep Health Foundation, adults aged 18-65 need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health and wellbeing. This allows our bodies to go through roughly four sleep cycles, promoting the production of cytokines and improving cognitive performance. It’s also best to stick to a sleep schedule, so your body gets into a rhythm for rest and recovery.
If you’re not sure how much sleep you’re getting, pick up an A.H. Beard RestOn Smart Sleep Monitor. This sleep tracker helps you understand your sleep patterns, including sleep-wake cycles and sleep duration, then delivers tips for better shuteye directly to your phone.
Your sleep environment plays an essential role in helping you get quality, immune system-boosting sleep. And when it comes to a better night’s rest, the right bedding makes a world of difference.
Invest in a high-quality healthy mattress that you find comfortable and that supports your body, like the A.H. Beard Sleep My Way mattress or our best-selling King Koil mattresses. These mattresses are also hypoallergenic and provide long-term protection against dust mites, mould, and other germs, which means you can breathe and sleep easily.
Don’t forget about your bedroom environment as well. Avoid screens before bedtime and turn off lights in your room—these lights affect your circadian rhythm by tricking your brain into thinking that it’s still daytime. If you can, adjust your room’s sleeping temperature to 18°C – 20°C to optimise your zzz’s.
Food and caffeinated beverages can wreak havoc on our body’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. Wait 2-3 hours after eating before hitting the hay. This means your body can focus on repairing itself and producing immune-boosting cells during your sleep, rather than digesting the food you’ve just eaten.
For coffee-lovers, don’t worry! It’s completely okay to drink a cuppa—just try not to do it after 2pm. The effects of caffeine can last for up to 7 hours, affecting your nervous system and preventing your body from getting quality rest.
And if you’re struggling to fall asleep, calm your nervous system and trigger a sleep-inducing hormonal response with these 15 foods.
Although the coronavirus crisis is concerning, it’s more important than ever to stay calm, take care of yourself and your loved ones, as well as the community. Ultimately, it’s a good reminder to all of us of the value of sleep in supporting our immune systems and fighting back against threats.