Sleep and Fighting Infections

How does your sleep quality affect the strength of your immune system? We are currently in an interesting and stressful time with COVID-19 and its mutated version. You want to ensure your immune system is as robust as possible for you and your loved ones to diminish your risk of contracting the virus.
In the New York Times Bestseller, Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, Ph.D., reveals several fascinating studies on sleep and its effect on your immune system, brain health, and longevity.

Do You Sleep Enough?

If you do not sleep enough, you are part of a larger demographic than you think. About 35% of American adults state they suffer from insomnia. These are individuals who know that good sleep is unattainable for them.
Yes, two-thirds of adults in developed countries fail to obtain the recommended hours of sleep. This problem is so pervasive that the WHO (World Health Organization) has deemed insufficient sleep an epidemic. What is the optimal number of hours you should sleep? 8 hours. The consequences to your health of sleeping less than 6 or 7 each night may surprise you.
“Lack of sleep can result in demolishing your immune system and doubling your risk of cancer”!
The above is a direct quote from Dr. Walker, sleep expert: If you tend to get less than 6 to 7 hours of sleep, it “demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.”
Adequate sleep is also a key factor in whether you will develop Alzheimer’s disease – meaning your brain function and cognitive health is also at risk with inadequate sleep. Sleep literally “fuels” your immune cells. Have you ever noticed that you are hungrier if you get less sleep? Your body is trying to replace the loss of sleep with food. It does not work, and if you are trying to lose weight, this will work against you.
The shorter your sleep schedule, the shorter your life span. Read that sentence again. Sleep is not a luxury to only be enjoyed on the weekends or on vacation. It is your ticket to a long and healthy life.
The shorter your sleep schedule, the shorter your life span.

When You Are Sick You Want To Sleep More. Why?

When you are sick, your body wants you to sleep more. Why is that? There is a very intimate relationship between your quality of sleep and the health of your immune system.
During sleep, your body secretes special immune cells to fight infection, attacking both acute and chronic sources that may be burdening your body. When your immune system is under stress, it actually “demands” that you sleep more, which is why you find it easy to nap and stay in bed longer when you are ill.
If you have ever suffered from a bad flu, you’ve experienced this phenomenon.

Can Sleep Help You Avoid the Common Cold or Coronavirus?

There are over 30 human coronaviruses, and the “old-fashioned” common cold is one of them. Dr. Prather from UC San Francisco conducted a fascinating study on the association of sleep and viral susceptibility, specifically the common cold. He enrolled 150 young, healthy college-aged men and women and began with an analysis of how many hours of sleep they typically got per night.
They were then put into 4 categories:
· 5 hours of sleep or less
· 5-6 hours
· 6-7 hours
· More than 7 hours
The next step was to administer the rhinovirus (cold virus) up to their noses. Yes, they willingly participated in this experiment and were paid for their contribution to the study. The relationship between the number of sleep hours of sleep and infection rate was clear. Those who sleep the least (5 hours or less) developed the rhinovirus, or common cold, at a rate of 50 percent. Yet, those who enjoyed the greatest number of sleep hours, 7 or more, became ill at a rate of only 18 percent.

Can You “Catch Up” on the Weekend?

Patients often ask me if sleeping more on the weekends is beneficial. Unfortunately, deficient hours of sleep during the week are not “made up” in any meaningful, immune-supporting way with more hours on the weekend.
Deficient hours of sleep during the week are not “made up” in any meaningful, immune-supporting way with more hours on the weekend.
Per Dr. Walker, “it doesn’t require more than a single night of shortened sleep before the body is rendered immunologically weak.”

Cutting your immune cells’ strength by 70%

Dr. Irwin from UCLA performed incredible studies demonstrating how quickly your immune cells can become compromised due to lack of sleep. He took healthy young men and restricted their sleep to only 4 hours – for just a single night.
After one night of 4 hours of sleep, their immune defense cells (natural killer cells) were diminished by 70 percent. Imagine you have 100 “immune soldiers” ready to defend you, and suddenly that number is cut to 30. How well are you going to be defended? How much more likely is it that you will fall ill? You have put yourself at a dramatically increased risk of infection.
I hope I have gotten your attention. I see hundreds of new patients every single month. I try to always ask them how much sleep they get. I also check on sleep quality. What you do have control over is how long you spend in bed. If you think it is a “luxury” to sleep 8 hours, reconsider based on all that we have discussed thus far. It is ultimately your decision, but to shorten your life unknowingly is a shame. Of course, weakening your immune system at any time is never a good idea, but at this time in our history, it is clearly something best avoided.

Poor Sleep Quality

Choosing not to get enough sleep is one thing but finding yourself unable to get adequate sleep is another. Insomnia, having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep is a different problem. So too is awakening in the morning only to feel completely exhausted. 
One of the specialties of our team of doctors at Root Cause Medical Clinics is identifying the actual cause of insomnia or poor-quality sleep without the use of medication. Often, we find an imbalance of the immune system, but the digestive system and hormonal imbalance should be considered as well.