Sleep it off: Research explains why sleep is so important for your immune system
07/18/2019 // Melissa Smith // Views

Many studies have shown the importance of getting a good night's sleep on many aspects of physical and mental health. In a recent paper, researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany demonstrated how sleep strengthens the immune system.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the study revealed that getting good-quality sleep can improve the functioning of immune cells called T cells. When they identify a virally infected cell, these cells activate a sticky type of protein called integrin that then enables them to attach to and kill the infected cells. T cells also fight against intracellular pathogens, such as virus-infected cells like flu and herpes, as well as cancer cells.

In the study, the researchers examined the relationship between sleep and the body’s defenses against infection. They compared T cells from healthy participants who either slept or stayed awake all night.

They discovered that the T cells of those who slept activated more integrins compared with those who stayed awake. This suggested that sleep can potentially improve T cell functioning. The researchers also explained that when people lack sleep, their stress hormones increase and suppress the ability of T cells to function as effectively.

Why people don’t get enough sleep

Adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night to promote optimal health and well-being. In fact, one in three American adults doesn’t get enough sleep, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Inadequate sleep is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and frequent mental distress. The Sleep Health Foundation, an Australian organization that investigates sleep and its disorders, revealed the most common reasons why people don't get enough sleep.


  • Taking sleep for granted: Although people know that sleep is essential, many take it for granted. Some even think of it as a waste of time, but the time spent in bed asleep is time well spent. During sleep, the brain does many important things, such as forming memories and going through the day’s events.
  • Consuming too much caffeine: Drinking caffeinated tea and coffee can help you stay awake. However, drinking too much of these may make it hard for you to sleep at night.
  • Drinking too much alcohol: Alcohol may make you drowsy, but your sleep will be restless.
  • Taking sleeping pills: Regularly taking sleeping pills will not help you sleep. What’s worse -- you may become addicted to it.
  • Shift work: Working different shifts makes it difficult for you to have a regular sleep pattern.
  • Jet lag: Changing time zones can interrupt your sleep pattern because your internal body clock will readjust to the new zone, which can take a few days.
  • Eating and drinking late: Eating before you sleep can cause heartburn and chest discomfort, so avoid late night meals. Should you eat at night, keep it small and light. Additionally, try to limit your fluid intake before bedtime to avoid getting up to go to the toilet during the night.
  • Failing to relax before bed: Avoid exercising, playing computer games, or watching TV before bedtime as these can disturb sleep. Relaxing before bed will help you fall asleep easier. (Related: The dark side of blue light: Constantly looking at a screen is bad for your eyes, skin, sleep and health.)
  • Stress: Stress can also interfere with sleep. Learn how to manage your stress and relax to get better sleep.
  • Sleep disorders: Sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs, affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Other medical conditions and pregnancy: Medical conditions, such as asthma and arthritis, as well as psychological problems, can also interrupt your sleep. It’s best to learn how to deal with them to avoid further sleep loss. Getting enough sleep during pregnancy can also be difficult, especially in the final months, as pregnant women often experience leg cramps and chest discomfort and have the urge to go to the toilet often.
  • Drug side effects: Over the counter and prescription drugs have many side effects, including sleep interruption.

Learn more on how to strengthen your immune system naturally at

Sources include: [PDF]

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