“Immunity Idol, back up for grabs!” Anyone familiar with those words? It is a catchy phrase used by the host of reality TV show, Survivor. In the show, teams and later on individual contestants have to compete in various contests to win the Immunity Idol. If your team wins the idol, you get to stay on the show for a little while longer. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to compete against other people in order to have a healthy immune system. Nope, if you want a good immune system, you have to work for it. And sleep for it! That’s right folks, one of the simplest and easiest ways to boost your immune system is by catching enough zzz’s. So read on if you want to know how sleep, or the lack thereof, affects your health.
So the more I sleep, the healthier I get?
Not quite! Sleeping nonstop won’t take away your chronic disease, whether it is heart disease or Alzheimer’s (or any other chronic disease for that matter). You see, the body functions on what sleep experts call a circadian clock. This circadian clock or rhythm is unique in every human and it regulates our wake/sleep cycle. Moreover, this circadian clock is coupled to night and day. During the day, most people will be in a wakeful state and at night the circadian rhythm will tell our bodies it is time to go to bed. But why am I telling you this? It is simply to illustrate the fact that our bodies want to be awake sometimes. Thus sleeping all the time won’t necessarily keep you healthy. And besides, if you sleep all the time, what does it matter whether you have a good immune system or not?
Having said that, following your circadian clock is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you stay healthy. You see, if you get the right amount of shut eye, your immune system functions at optimum capacity. But what is the right amount of sleep? First off, that depends on how old you are. Not all human beings need the same amount of sleep. For instance, newborn babies need up to 18 hours of sleep per day. Whereas adults only require between seven and nine hours of sleep a day. So here’s the trick. Don’t party all night, every night. Because if you do, your immune system will be in bad shape and then when the flu sweeps through, guess who’ll be going to the doctor..? You!
So if you are not into partying, but you stay up all night to play online games or watch movies, is that okay? Absolutely not! Even though the type of activity that you do while skimping on sleep can have an effect on your health, the mere fact that you are not sleeping when you should is already adversely affecting your immune system! So listen to your circadian clock and go to bed when you feel drowsy at night. And try to sleep for more than seven hours ever night, see if you feel any better.
How does sleep boost the immune system
As most of you should be aware of, hormones drive most of our body functions. For hormones to do their thing, our bodies need to be receptive for it. But as you all know, the human body is a sensitive thing! So setting the scene for certain hormones to go to work is not always as easy it seems. The secretion and reception of hormones in the body are both chemical reactions that take place. And chemical reactions are governed by temperature, pH balance and the amount of available oxygen. So it is our job to create a good environment for our bodies to function in.
So what does this have to do with my immune system? Here’s the thing; when we sleep our bodies cool down. And if you paid attention in the previous paragraph, you would have noticed that temperature plays a role in the chemical reactions that take place in our bodies. So when our core temperature goes down at night, there are certain chemical reactions that can take place. These reactions will never place during the day because our body temperature is too high. Some of these reactions include the release of cytokines, a type of protein that helps fight infection and inflammation.
Another important aspect of sleep and the immune system is that, during sleep, our bodies produce T-cells. These cells are a type of white blood cell that circulates through our bodies, constantly on the lookout for abnormal cellular activity. Now there are two basic groups of T-cells, what medical professionals refer to as Killer T-cells and Helper T-cells. As the name implies, Killer T-cells target and kill cells that are infected by disease or are cancerous in nature. Helper T-cells are present in all aspects of the immune system, as these cells are responsible for organising the immune system’s response to infection, injury or disease.
T-cells also store information about previously encountered viruses and bacteria. So if you’ve had a certain strain of flu fifteen years ago and you come into contact with that same strain now, your immune system will know how to counteract it immediately. If you vaccinate against certain diseases, the T-cells will fight of the injected disease and remember how to produce antibodies for that specific disease. But if you don’t sleep enough, your body won’t produce enough of these T-cells. Subsequently your chances of contracting a disease is more likely if you are starved for sleep.
Lack of sleep enhances your chances of getting cardiovascular disease
A very recent study, published in volume 73 of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that the lack of sleep can increase your chance of contracting Subclinical Atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in arteries, a form of heart disease) by up to 27%. The same study also found that bad quality sleep increases your chances of contracting heart disease even more! Interestingly the study also found that people who report that they get less than the required amount of sleep each night are also people that are prone to drink more alcohol and caffeinated drinks. So go read up on how alcohol and caffeine affect your sleep here.
The study showed that sleeping for longer than nine hours did not decrease your chance of contracting heart disease when compared to people who got between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. So the bottom line is that we should sleep for between seven and nine hours a night. If we do this, we are less likely to contract heart disease and our immune systems will be ready for action when we come into contact with illness.
Winter is coming
Or is winter here? Apparently it starts in April this year..? (I can hardly wait!). Hem hem, what was that? Game of Thrones… what? Anyhow, with the change of the season, people always tend to get sick. But you can boost your immune system to stave off the flu this winter! All you have to do is get enough sleep. And not just for one or two nights in a row. Every night from now on! Because all it takes to get your immune system down is a couple of late nights.
If you struggle to sleep, it may be time for a new bed or a new mattress. So what are you waiting for? Come down to The Mattress Warehouse to find the perfect bed for you! Do the right thing for your body and your immune system and sleep soundly tonight!