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May 20, 2020

Sleep Smart: Bolstering immunity with better sleep

Estimated reading time: 4-6 minutes

How sleep affects the immune system with tips from Dr. Lee-Chiong

When someone says they are feeling under the weather, how often are they immediately told to “get some rest”? At signs of sickness, a first instinct is often to encourage more sleep. Yet, when healthy, keeping consistent sleep routines is frequently a struggle for many people, especially when strapped for time, stressed at work, or managing family and social commitments.


While many believe that diet and hygiene are key to boosting immune health, sleep plays an integral role in this function as well. According to Dr. Teofilo Lee-Chiong, Chief Medical Liaison at Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care, “sleep and the immune system are bidirectionally linked and both have important roles in the body’s defense against diseases. Optimal immune function requires adequate sleep, and inadequate sleep impairs the immune response.”

Immune function during sleep

During sleep, the immune system releases certain cytokines which increase with infection or inflammation, or during periods of stress, to combat illness. If the body is deprived of sleep, it may actually decrease production of these protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies. On those days, the body takes control to combat sickness and people may experience sleep disturbance or overall poor sleep quality, and may feel stronger urges to nap or sleep in. The body uses a lot of energy to fight viruses and eliminate pathogens by kicking the immune system into high gear. That means there is often less energy for other activities. Getting more sleep when sick is paramount to healing the body and conserving energy to fight against diseases. 


Conversely, sleep is an essential component of building up the body’s immunity and making sure it is operating at full capacity when healthy. In fact, studies have shown that sleep disturbance and inadequate sleep can leave one’s immune system more susceptible to infectious illnesses like the common cold [1]. 

Sleep is essential for immune health, and much more

Time and time again, sleep (or lack thereof) has been shown to impact our mental and physical health, relationships, and more. According to Philips 2020 Global Sleep Survey,  most people agreed sleep is an important contributor to their physical well-being (87%) and mental well-being (86%), but only half (49%) reported being satisfied with their sleep. 


During these uncertain times, while the world is battling an infectious disease, it is essential to optimize sleep to ensure the immune system remains strong, and to support mental well-being. Dr. Teofilo Lee-Chiong, suggests:


  • Maintaining a regular bedtime and waking time. Schedule a protected time for sleep, including an anchor period (i.e., same 4-6 hours regardless of schedule). 
  • Napping to reduce daytime fatigue but not regularly doing to replace a restful night sleep. 
  • Cutting down on alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and foods containing caffeine, such as dark chocolate, at night.
  • Limiting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, candies and desserts that can worsen sleep quality. 
  • Keeping the sleep environment comfortable, dark, quiet, and cool.


Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on a person’s health, especially for people that already suffer from a weakened immune system or suffer from a chronic sleep disorder. Focusing holistically on taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle through all facets of wellness – diet, exercise, etc. – is the first step to a more resilient immune system and more consistent, healthy sleep habits. 


Despite evidence that shows people around the world recognize the important role sleep plays in their overall health, Philips sleep survey shows that an overwhelming percent of the population is still interested in receiving new information or strategies to help them achieve better sleep. Developed in collaboration with sleep physicians, specialists and researchers, Philips SmartSleep Analyzer online assessment tool offers a clinically proven way to identify sleep challenges and recommend clinically validated solutions from Philips to help people take the right steps toward bettering their sleep and overall health. 


[1] Arch Intern Med. 2009 January 12; 169(1): 62–67. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.505. Sheldon Cohen, PhD, William J. Doyle, PhD, Cuneyt M. Alper, MD, Denise Janicki-Deverts, PhD, and Ronald B. Turner, M

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Meredith Amoroso

Meredith Amoroso

Philips Global Press Office

Tel: +1 724-584-8991

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