Have you ever noticed that you’re more likely to get the cold or flu when you’re sleep-deprived? In all of the research studies looking at mechanisms that support immune resilience, NOTHING comes close to getting plenty of good sleep — no supplement, no diet, and no other lifestyle strategy.
We’ve all heard sleep is important, but I find when people understand the science, the message sinks in better. In this article I’m going to explain specifically how sleep improves immune function and resilience.
As we go through each day, our body releases various hormones to keep us functioning. For instance, cortisol is ideally high in the morning, which wakes us up and gives us energy to get going for the day. Cortisol gradually drops during the day and melatonin levels go up as it’s close to time for bed. This is what makes us feel sleepy.
This melatonin release is accompanied by a significant release of growth peptides and growth factor that “prime,” or activate, our immune cells. These cells include natural killer cells and T-cells, which are vital to fighting infections such as viruses. In other words, these vital immune cells need sleep in order to function properly.
So, while many people are taking a large cocktail of various supplements to support their immune system, probably the most fundamental and profound action you can take is to get plenty of proper sleep.
What does proper sleep mean?
What does healthy proper sleep look like? One of the first factors is that you wake up naturally and don’t need an alarm clock to wake you up. The biggest sleep mistake most people make is they simply stay up too late. If you are genuinely focused on improving your immune resilience, go to bed with plenty of time to naturally wake up in the morning. Experiment until you find a schedule that has you naturally waking up before your alarm clock goes off in the morning.
What if you can’t stay asleep?
Many people have a hard time staying asleep at night. They wake up in the middle of the night, usually filled with anxiety or worry. The most common cause of this is low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. If eating something helps you relax you and fall back asleep, this is a sign your blood sugar is low. This means you’re leading a low-blood-sugar lifestyle: You’re missing meals, going too long without eating, eating too many sugary and starchy foods without enough proteins and fats to sustain glycogen (blood sugar) production throughout the night.
Another common reason people can’t stay asleep is because of frequent urination. This could simply be from too much salt in the diet, especially before bed.
Prostate issues in men and overactive bladders in both men and women is another factor that wakes people up. This can be related to declining hormone activity and gradual weakening of the pelvic floor muscles.
These are examples of underlying factors that can wake you up during the night and that you must address during the day.
A small investment that helps my patients sleep
In addition to addressing underlying factors, a white noise machine helps many of my patients sleep better. Several published studies show background white noise produces more REM sleep and more restful sleep, which can have a profound impact on the immune system. A white noise machine doesn’t make bird sounds, or the sounds of changing waves or the forest — it’s a continuous sound that doesn’t vary much.
What if you just don’t get enough sleep?
If you did not get enough proper during the night, it’s critical you take a nap during the day, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. This is especially true if you slept less than 6 hours. This can have a profound impact on supporting your immune system.
Because our immune systems are constantly challenged by stress, environmental toxins, and other factors, we need resilience strategies to focus on the foundations of healthy immune function. In addition to plenty of good sleep, this also includes emphasizing proper diet, hydration, appropriate levels of physical activity, natural opioid release, and other basic strategies, which I explore in more depth in my free Everyday Immune Resilience course.