Right now we are all thinking about how we can live well to keep our immune systems strong to fight off virus and infection. Guess what is at the cornerstone of a healthy immune system? Sleep! When it comes to the pillars of health, sleep is something we can’t cut corners on if we want to help our bodies defences fight off infection.
While we sleep the body produces and releases cytokines. This is a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. Thus creating an immune response. So, if you are not sleeping the recommended level of sleep then your body is not getting the opportunity to produce this important protein to fight off infection.
For an adult, it would be recommended to have an average of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. For a child, the recommendation would vary per age range. For younger children up to 16 hours including naps. For older children somewhere in the region of 9-11 hours.
When working with families I often refer to the book, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Walker is a renowned sleep neurologist and in his book, he brings us through clinical research the looks at the mysterious world of sleep in a way that everyone can understand. He cites examples that relate the research to our own day to day lives – making it all relevant and real.
In a section of the book, he looks at the role of sleep in immune response and fighting infection. Walker looks at a study that was conducted where those involved were infected with a cold in a controlled setting. The study found that the people who had less sleep prior to infection were more likely to become sick following infection. Specifically, those who slept 5 hours on average were 50% more likely to become infected and those sleeping 7 hours or more were at an infection rate of just 18%. So the findings of this study were clear. The less sleep the participants had the more likely they were to become ill. Walker goes on to state that prolonged sleep deprivation is recognised as being an issue however he looks at how just a few nights of shorter sleep phases can negatively impact immunity.
Walker says, "Sleep fights against infection and sickness by deploying all manner of weaponry within your immune arsenal, cladding you with protection. Reduce sleep, even for a single night, and that invisible suit of immune resilience is rudely stripped from your body".
So, what Walker references here is very relevant to what we now know about the role that sleep plays in the production of cytokines. Without adequate levels of sleep, this protein is not getting the opportunity to be produced at its optimum level and thus our immune response would be lowered.
Obviously sleep is just one factor when it comes to boosting immunity in the human body. Diet, exercise and overall health and well being are extremely important factors too. But, what can you do to protect your sleep so that you are helping your immune response is at its optimum level to fight infection?
Erica Hargaden is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with her private practice Babogue. She is the creator of the Sleep Series which is a video-based online sleep program which uses her 7 Steps to Better Sleep to help families achieve their sleep goals. She is also a mother of 3 who has experienced her own issues around sleep. To learn more check out www.babogue.com or check out her Instagram Page @babogue_sleep. She can be contacted via email on firstname.lastname@example.org