People frequently cut back on sleep for family demands, work, watching their favorite television shows, and more. Sound familiar?
But did you know that cutting back on your sleep can actually have a negative effect on your immune system?
Your immune system is meant to protect you from the flu, colds and other illnesses, but if it is not properly functioning, it isn't able to do its job. This can make you more prone to becoming ill. Not only have studies shown that people who are sleep deprived are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, sleep deprivation can also affect how quickly you recover if you do get sick, and it can affect your protection from vaccines.
When it comes to your health, the quality and quantity of your sleep plays a vital role.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation occurs when you get less sleep than you need to feel awake and alert.
What people don't always realize is that there's no magic number of hours that works for everyone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Teenagers need between eight and ten hours of sleep per night, while school age children need between nine and eleven hours.
It’s important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep. Are you productive and content after seven hours of sleep, or do you need more to feel your best? Do you need caffeine to get through the day? Are you irritable, moody, forgetful and/or depressed? These are all noticeable signs of sleep deprivation.
The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a great tool that you can use to evaluate your sleep. It is a self-administered questionnaire with eight questions. Each answer that you give receives a score. The higher the ESS score, the higher your average sleep propensity in daily life, or your ‘daytime sleepiness.' The questionnaire takes no more than two or three minutes to complete and could shed important light on your own sleep needs.
Although occasional sleep deprivation can have short term effects, ongoing sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and increase your risk for a variety of health problems, including:
- Early death
- Poor mental health
- High blood pressure
- Coronary heart disease
Sleep Strengthens Your Immune System
Numerous studies have reported the benefits of a good night’s sleep, and now researchers from Germany have found that sound sleep can assist the immune system, by improving immune cells known as T cells. These cells in your immune system attack intracellular pathogens like cancer cells, flu, HIV, and herpes.
The study's researchers made a comparison of healthy volunteers' T cells who either stayed awake all night or slept all night. They found people who slept had stronger and healthier T cells than people who stayed up.
In essence, if you're lacking quality sleep, it might hinder your T cells' ability to effectively function.
10 Tools to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
There is no questioning the importance of deep, restorative sleep. But it's not always as easy as it sounds! Here are 10 lifestyle changes you can make to improve the quality of your sleep, boost your immune system, and fight off illness.
- Yoga and meditation
- Be mindful of your diet
- Listening to relaxing music
- Keeping regular sleep/wake cycles
- Reducing caffeine, especially late day
- Eliminating blue light in your bedroom (it's a real thing, read our guide on how blue light might be disrupting your sleep cycles.)
- Take a soothing bath before you go to bed
- Turn off electronic devices when you go to bed
- Exercising frequently, in the morning or afternoon
- Sleeping on a healthy, non-toxic organic mattress and organic bedding (read more about our editor's experience with sleeping on a clean non-toxic mattress.)
We hope that you will follow these tips to improve the quality of your sleep and to make sure your body is well rested and your immune system strong.
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