“During sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines are important for fighting infections and inflammation and help us respond to stress. But when we don’t get enough sleep or our sleep is disrupted, our bodies produce fewer of these important cytokines,” explained the researchers in an article they wrote for The Conversation.
In their column, the researchers cited a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that explored the link between sleeping habits and immunity.
A research team led by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University exposed 78 men and 75 women to the rhinovirus -- the virus that causes the common cold -- and monitored them for the development of a clinical cold.
As detailed in their paper, the researchers found that those who slept less than seven hours per night were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more per night.
According to the UQ researchers, while there is still not enough solid research on the relationship between sleep and the coronavirus, a pattern similar to the one reported by Cohen and his team can be expected.
In an interview with CNBC, Steven Tucker, an American oncologist, said that getting adequate sleep is the single best way for people to improve and balance their immune system. (Related: Sleep it off: Research explains why sleep is so important for your immune system)
“Sleep is not a pillar of health but the bedrock foundation upon which all health, including immunity, is built,” Tucker said, adding that getting more good-quality sleep improves one’s resilience, as well as lowers one’s adrenal and stress hormone levels -- all of which are factors that could lead to improved immunity.
Russell Foster, a neuroscientist and director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, also touched on the issue of stress hormones and their connection to sleep and immunity in his column for the Daily Mail.
According to Foster, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are known to trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response, which means they keep the body engaged and ready for action. However, while this could be helpful in times of absolute danger, this mechanism requires the body to divert energy from other systems, such as the immune system. Immune function is suppressed, as a result.
This can be devastating, Foster said, as it not only increases the likelihood of getting infected by new viruses, such as the coronavirus, but it can also lead to the reawakening of dormant viruses that could already be lurking inside the body, such as herpes.
Foster also noted that sleep disruption can increase a person's risk of developing chronic inflammation -- a condition that has been linked to lasting damage to the heart, brain and other vital organs, as well as a weakened immune response.
With the threat of the current coronavirus pandemic still present, experts say it will be beneficial for people to do everything that they can to support their immune system. And one of the best ways to do so is to get enough sleep.
In their Conversation column, the UQ researchers shared some tips on how to get sufficient sleep and bolster your immune system.
One of the ways they suggested was to stick to a consistent schedule of waking up, no matter how long your sleep was the night before. This, the researchers said, will help improve the length and quality of your sleep on subsequent nights.
Another way is to enhance your sleeping environment: Make your lights dim and relaxing, minimize noise and stabilize your room’s temperature. This will make your room more comfortable and conducive to sleeping.
The researchers also recommended developing a bedtime routine, such as taking a warm shower or bath one hour before going to sleep or relaxing by reading a book or listening to music. Having a bedtime routine can help your mind and body wind down from the day’s activities and prepare you for a more restful sleep.
For more stories on how to strengthen your immune system naturally, visit ImmuneSystem.news.