Did you ever notice that a bad mood affects your sleep routine? When the experts drove deeper, they found that stress, sleep, and immunity, all three things, are strongly connected. So a good night’s sleep has many positive effects on the individual’s overall well-being. And if someone is constantly deprived of getting enough sleep, he’s likely to fall ill frequently.
The research was carried out in different regions to find the connection between sleep and the immune system. It has been found that lack of sleep has many adverse effects on our body, particularly the immune system. Our body’s immune response can be strengthened and weakened based on how many hours of sleep we get every day.
So, today we will look upon how stress and sleep regulate our body’s immune response.
How Do We Define Stress? What Are Stress Hormones?
Stress is our body’s natural response whenever we face any threat or encounter a dangerous situation. Under these circumstances, our body’s mode of fight-and-flight response becomes active. Also, a stressful situation triggers the brain to release certain hormones to manage the stress.
The stimulation of adrenal glands releases two hormones:
In addition, adrenaline produces the following effects:
- Vasoconstriction (contraction of blood vessels)
- Increased heartbeat
- Increased breathing rate
- Inhibit insulin production
Though adrenaline and cortisol are secreted when the body is under stress, the primary stress hormone is cortisol.
Cortisol is the principal stress hormone that produces many effects to help our body deal with any stress.
These effects include:
- Increase the blood sugar levels
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased breathing rate
- Sharpened senses
However, if cortisol levels increase more than a significant amount, it may create more problems than benefits. If a high amount of cortisol presents in the body, it interferes with:
- Digestion and metabolism
- Blood pressure
- Immune System
Do Higher Levels of Cortisol Affect Your Sleep In A Negative Way?
To make a long story short, yes.
Besides the positive effects of cortisol, some negative aspects may be produced if produced in more than the required, safe amount. One of those adverse effects is it can disturb your circadian Rhythm and cause sleep problems.
What is Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian Rhythm is our body’s internal 24-hour clock. According to this clock, our body performs all following a schedule such as sleep cycle, metabolism, cognition, etc. Following an inconsistent sleeping or meal schedule alters this circadian Rhythm and has a highly significant impact on your immune system. Ultimately, your risk of developing infections is higher.
The release pattern of cortisol also follows the Circadian Rhythm. So, its production is at its peak 1 hour later when you get up. And the production drops down to the lowest point when it’s midnight.
Two types of sleep:
There are different stages of sleep that our body undergoes when we are sleeping. However, we won’t discuss them here in detail.
Broadly classifying, there are two types or stages of sleep we get.
REM: It stands for Rapid Eye Movement. If your body remains in the REM stage longer than non-REM, you can’t have a restful sleep. Because during REM, we are in a state of dreaming.
NON-REM: Non-REM is a restful sleep where our brain functions slow down. Long hours of Non-REM sleep means the person is having a sound sleep.
How Does the Immune System Work?
If we want to learn how sleep and the immune system correlate, we first need to know how the immune system works. What is the role of an effective and balanced immune system?
Our immune system comprises two types:
- Innate Immune System (immediate)
- Adaptive Immune System (learned)
The response of the innate immune system comes immediately and is nonspecific. In contrast, the adaptive immune system targets foreign invaders specifically.
Generally speaking, leukocytes or white blood cells (WBCs) make up our defense system. Their function is to recognize, target, and eliminate any foreign antigen from your body. When a pathogen enters our body, they release certain chemicals. These chemicals (or toxins) trigger our immune system. Our defense system wakes up to counter the toxic effects that these chemicals may cause.
Once the WBCs detect invasion by a foreign particle, they activate and release a protein called cytokines. It acts as a messenger for other WBCs present in circulation. They communicate via cytokines and start approaching the site of the attack. In the course of action, some other chemicals like histamine are also released. They are mainly involved in inflammatory reactions, considered an immune response when our body is under attack.
Why Is A Balanced Immune Response Important?
Getting good sleep is imperative because it improves our immune response. Therefore, the relationship between sleep and the immune system needs to be balanced. Otherwise, your body will become vulnerable to infections. An efficient immune system working optimally helps us to fight against pathogens. And if our immune system loses its potential to protect our body against harmful chemicals or microorganisms, we can easily fall ill.
How Stress, Sleep, and the Immune System Are Interconnected?
As we mentioned above, the condition of stress stimulates the secretion of stress hormones. And according to Circadian Rhythm, its concentration or amount lowers when our body is in sleeping mode.
The experts say that the stress hormones (these include adrenaline, cortisol, and prostaglandins) have an inhibitory effect on the stickiness of adhesion molecules called ‘integrins.’ During the night, the low secretion of these hormones promotes this phenomenon of stickiness that is important for the optimal function of T cells. For example, T cells have to attach themselves directly to them to kill virus-infected or cancer cells. And the stickiness of integrins helps to promote this attachment.
Moreover, T-cells are one of the vital components of our adaptive immune system. Their function is to recognize the invader using the memory stored upon a previous attack. And then the response comes accordingly.
Because we are talking about the immune system’s memory, here is another critical aspect to discuss. Just like sleep enhances our brain memory and learning ability, it also develops our immunological memory in the same way. When our body encounters invasion by a new antigen, its information is stored in the memory B cells. And during the second, third, and so on encounters by the same antigen, that memory helps our immune system show quick and specific responses. It is also observed that the performance of T cells is more efficient in individuals who sleep well.
What Should You Do To Improve Your Sleep and the immune system?
Now, you know the importance of uninterrupted, restful sleep and its influence on your immune system. So, we will move forward to give you some tips for managing your stress, getting deep sleep, and an immune system that works efficiently.
Maintain Your Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a term collectively used for your sleeping habits, routine, and sleeping environment. You know the importance of Circadian Rhythm, so try to make a sleep schedule and follow it consistently. Avoid using cell phones at bedtime. For an adult human, getting at least 7 hours of sleep daily is beneficial to strengthen immunity.
Try to sleep in dim light. A hormone, melatonin, is produced in our body when it senses light. Therefore, it will make it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
There are some meditation techniques you may follow to relax your body. It will help you fall asleep quickly. You can do yoga, practice deep breathing, listen to music, or take a bath, whatever you consider convenient and relaxing for you. Many people often use these techniques to improve their ability to sleep without difficulty.
Maintain A Healthy Diet
Always follow a diet plan that is good for your health. For example, avoid those foods that can trigger the secretion of stress hormones or inhibitory effects on the immune system. Also, don’t take caffeine from evening till bedtime. Snacking late at night may also create sleeping problems.
Some regular, moderate-intensity exercises can also improve your quality of sleep.
Besides following the relaxing techniques, you should also refrain from negative thoughts. If you have any sleeping disorder, approach a health professional to help you with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Concern Doctor For Chronic Sleep Problems
People who face severe difficulty in having a peaceful sleep should consider talking to their doctor. There may be other reasons that only a person who belongs to the health care professionals can help you. For instance, he may prescribe you medications to improve your sleeping habits.
To conclude, a good night’s sleep is significantly imperative to maintain both your mental and physical health. Taking a good nap with consistency isn’t only necessary to wake up fresh and ready for the new day. It’s also essential for our well-being. If you are getting sufficient hours of sleep in your routine, you are preparing your immune system to perform well. Also, chronic and long-term stress may affect your sleep habits negatively. For this, you should follow the guidelines mentioned above to increase your sleeping hours. These tips will help you improve both your sleep and the immune system leading to a healthy life.