If you have ever spent a night tossing and turning, you already know how a lack of sleep can leave you feeling the next day. We all experience a bad night’s sleep every now and again. But if you are regularly not getting enough, it could do more than leave you feeling grumpy and in desperate need of coffee the next morning. Ever notice that you are prone to sniffling and sneezing when you do not get enough sleep? Turns out it is not in your head. Sleep and a healthy immune system go hand in hand and a lack of good-quality shut-eye can affect our health in many ways.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is an army of different cells, tissues, and organs that all work together to protect the body against disease and infection. It works by recognising the difference between your own body cells and foreign cells, destroying anything in your body that could be harmful and make you sick.
What happens to the body when we sleep?
We spend around a third of our lives asleep. Although you might not be ticking things off your to-do list whilst you are dreaming away, your body is still working. Even after you have clocked off for the day, it works hard to get important jobs done to keep you performing at your best while you are awake. Your brain sorts and processes everything you have learnt and experienced that day to form new memories. The pituitary gland in the brain releases growth hormones, which help the body to grow and repair itself. The immune system releases cytokines which are small proteins that help the body fight inflammation and infection. Pretty incredible right? Without enough sleep, your immune system might not be able to work at its best.
Will a lack of sleep affect my health?
The odd bad night's sleep may make you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it will not harm your long-term health. However, regular sleepless nights can. A lack of good quality sleep can put you at risk of serious medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes and can even shorten your life expectancy. Studies have shown that people who get less than seven hours of sleep every night tend to gain more weight and are at a greater risk of obesity compared to those who get at least seven hours of slumber. The immune system is also affected if you skimp on the shut-eye, as less of the useful cytokine proteins are produced if you’re not sleeping well. To add to the list, it is not just your physical health that is impacted by poor sleep. It can also affect your mental health, increasing the risk of developing long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. If you wake up tired and spend the daydreaming about taking a nap, you're probably not getting enough sleep. Sound familiar? The only way to compensate is by getting more sleep. We know sometimes this is way easier said than done, so to hit the hay happy we have lots of slumber secrets and saviours to help you drift off. If you are having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or you’re not feeling rested when you wake up, chat to your GP.
Is there anything else I can do to keep my immune system healthy?
When your immune system is on top form, you probably forget about it working away around the clock to protect you. But to help keep yourself fighting fit, as well as nailing your sleep routine, there are other things you can do to help take care of your immune system.
- Wash your hands
Washing your hands regularly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, is a simple yet effective way to protect yourself from catching and spreading germs.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Create a rainbow on your plate to help keep your immune system healthy. The more colour on your plate from fruit and vegetables, the more variety of important vitamins and minerals you are likely to get.
- Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has so many health benefits, including supporting a healthy immune system. Walking, cycling, yoga or dance classes, do whatever works for you.
- Reduce everyday stress
Stress is annoyingly something we all have to deal with sometimes. What is important is finding ways to manage your everyday stress to keep you healthy and happy.