The Link Between Disturbed Sleep And Immunity
A good night's sleep is something we all look forward to after a tiring day. Even so, getting 7-8 hours of daily sleep sounds like a luxury to most of us. The reasons for this are umpteen. Be it starting an assignment a night before it's due, or the inability to hit pause button on the new show you were watching last night. We all know how this story ends - Hitting snooze a dozen times in the morning to get those extra 12 minutes of sleep.
Whatever be the reason, lack of sleep can be harmful to our bodies. And no, we aren't just talking about how it gets us cranky in the morning. Sleep and immunity share a two-way connection.
Let us take a look at how sleep can affect our immune system and vice versa.
1. Good sleep: A sticky situation for infections
Research suggests that a good night's sleep can reduce adrenaline and other chemicals and improve the stickiness of a certain type of immune cells called T cells. These T cells adhere to the harmful microorganisms and destroy them, thus preventing infections. This is why stickiness is important for killing bacteria and viruses.
2. Put a stop to those multiple alarms
Sleep interruptions are extremely bad for your health. Frequent sleep disturbances can result in an increase in proinflammatory substances in our bodies. This also occurs in sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea.
3. Hit the refresh button
Sleep is like any other natural function for the body. It is required to recharge ourselves. As we grow older, our sleep requirements and patterns change, and we may feel the need to sleep more. But the fact remains, we need at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Frequently missing out on our daily quota can plummet our immune system along with other important functions.
4. Remember me
We can't possibly exclude Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep from the context of sleep! REM sleep is a state of deep sleep. Certain substances like interleukins are released under inflammatory conditions. These are known to enhance non-REM sleep. This can lead to not getting enough REM sleep at night, which could cause diabetes and hypertension. This is seen evidently in sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea.
5. Less sleep means danger
Loss of sleep is deemed as a stress signal in our body. And stress blows things out of proportion, literally. This means a variety of chemicals being released in the body that lead to inflammation. This also causes the good immune cells to back down and can make us prone to infections.
6. Sleepy and sickly
You must have observed that we feel a little extra sleepy and lethargic when we're sick. This suggests that infections can alter our sleep architecture and patterns. Research suggests that these changes are made by our bodies to support the generation of fever, which is our body's way of fighting infections.
With this, we have established that sleep and immunity have a deep-rooted connection, where one impacts the other. Hence, it is important to take care of both. So tonight, sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite!
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- Dimitrov S, et al. Gαs-coupled receptor signalling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells. J Exp Med. 2019;216(3):517-26.
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- Imeri L, et al. How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009;10(3):199-210.
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