How Your Immune System Health Affects Your Sleep

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It’s the ultimate catch-22 — when you’re sick, you need to get more Zzz’s. However, your stuffy nose and achy body could hold up a no-entry sign on your road to dreamland.

Your immune system shares an intimate relationship with slumber. You need rest to recover when ill, and a lack of it can make you more likely to get sick. Here’s how your immune system affects your sleep and some tips to help you start snoring.

An Overview of Sleep and Your Immune System

If you need rest the most when you’re sick, why do Zzz’s sometimes prove so elusive? When a foreign pathogen stimulates your immune system, it produces an inflammatory response. Depending on its magnitude and time course, it can disrupt your sleep patterns or make you want to stay in bed too much.

Your immune and central nervous systems are the two that can sense and react to environmental stimuli, even while you rest. Therefore, factors such as the foods you eat or blue light from electronic devices in your bedroom also affect how much sleep you get when sick. Dining on superfoods like vitamin-packed miso a few hours before bed might make a difference.  

Sleep helps your immune system function more efficiently in several ways. When you get your shuteye, your body produces cytokines, which need to increase to fight infection and inflammation. When you don’t get adequate rest, these substance’s levels decrease and leave you vulnerable to the latest bug.

You also need adequate rest to activate your T-cells. When your body encounters a pathogen, it first tries to stop it with your skin and mucous membranes. If the bug manages to cross the moat, specialized immune cells called T and B come into play.

Your T-cells come coated with a sticky substance called integrins, helping them adhere to and destroy germs. However, stress-induced adrenaline and noradrenaline inhibit the tacky stuff. Your levels of these two hormones drop to their lowest point during sleep and those who get their rest show higher amounts of integrin activation.

Getting adequate sleep matters even when you aren’t sick, and not only for preventing infectious disease. A lack of shuteye can make your body take longer to respond to immunizations — vital 411 if you are currently or soon plan to get the novel coronavirus vaccine.

Additionally, sleep-deprived people run an elevated risk of dying from heart disease. Lack of shuteye increases your levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker. Scientists suspect that the resulting swelling can tax your ticker. Mortality from all causes increases when you get less than six hours of rest each night.

Tricks for Getting the Healing Sleep You Need

Now that you understand how your immune system affects your sleep and vice-versa, what can you do to get the rest you need, even when under the weather? The following tips and tricks can help.

1. Elevate Yourself

It’s challenging to fall asleep when you can’t breathe. Fortunately, much of the difficulty you experience stems from lying down flat. Sinus pressure builds when your head is level with your body, so take a foam wedge pillow to support your upper body. If you don’t have such a gadget, you can use regular pillows arranged to create a slight slope.

2. Drop the Temperature

Cooler temperatures signal your body that night is coming, and it’s time to rest. Ideally, you should keep temperatures in the 60s when you sleep. Keep a warm, fuzzy robe and slippers by the end of your bed so that if you do need to get up during the night, you can bundle up without turning on the light.

3. Unplug Your Devices

It may seem tempting to lie in bed scrolling social media when you can’t sleep, but doing so could make slumber impossible. The blue light wavelength that electronic devices emit interferes with your melatonin production, a vital sleep hormone.

For best results, you should unplug an hour before bedtime. If an aching body drags you to bed before you’re ready to turn off the lights, take a book with you instead of your cellphone. 

4. Humidify Your Room

One of the best natural ways to unclog a stuffy nose is to get steamy. Take a hot bath before you lie down, or invest in a humidifier for your bedroom. Dry air also destroys mucous membranes —  your body’s first line of defense — so using a mister even when you aren’t sick could help you stave off illness.

Another idea is to have a cup of hot, relaxing tea to open swollen nasal passages. Herbs like lavender and chamomile can ease you into dreamland, while brews containing echinacea may boost immune function.

5. Keep Needed Supplies Within Arm’s Reach

Few things disrupt your slumber more than waking up to blow your nose — and having to journey to the kitchen for a tissue. Keep things like cold medications and Kleenex on your nightstand where you can reach them without rousing yourself too much.

6. Use Care With OTC Cold Medications

While many cold medications contain ingredients to help you sleep, some decongestants contain stimulants that could keep you awake. Read the label carefully and seek preparations designed to make slumber come more readily.

How Your Immune Health Affects Your Sleep: A Complicated Relationship

Now that you know how your immune health affects your sleep, you can take measures to get the slumber you need. It turns out you need your beauty rest for much more than a rosy complexion.

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