Have you ever had a terrible few days of sleep and then found yourself fighting a cold or illness soon after? If so, you learned firsthand how essential sleep is to your immune system and what can happen when you don't get the rest your body needs. Your body needs sleep to help stay in fighting shape to ward off infectious diseases.
How Sleep Impacts Your Immune System
The reason a lack of sleep weakens immunity is because you're increasing organisms' susceptibility to infection. The relationship between the body's immune-endocrine system and sleep is considered bidirectional, according to an article published in the Journal of Immunology Research. Simply put, when you're not getting enough sleep it can alter your immune response. When you get good quality sleep and log the hours your body needs, the stronger your immune system can be.
When you're sick with a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection, you're more likely to experience sleep disturbances because foreign pathogens can alter the brain systems that get you ready for sleep and wreak havoc on your quality of sleep.
Your body uses a lot of energy to fight a virus and eliminate pathogens by kicking your immune system into high gear. That means it has less energy for other body processes. Getting more sleep when you're sick is paramount to heal your body and conserve energy for that fight against intruders.
How Sleep Impacts Immunity
Sleep is an essential component of building up your body's immune system and making sure it's operating at full capacity. When your body is running on a depleted sleep bank, you're more likely to get sick because those germ-fighting cell soldiers aren't operating at 100 percent. In addition, the antibodies and cells that battle infections and help you stay healthy aren't being produced as frequently when you're sleep-deprived.1
Short Sleep Increases Your Chances of Getting Sick
When you're not getting enough sleep, you're putting yourself at a higher risk of catching a cold or virus. One study in the journal, SLEEP, found that subjects who self-reported shorter sleep duration in their sleep diaries were more susceptible to develop a cold when exposed to a virus as part of the study. The study participants that slept fewer than 5 hours a night or between 5 and 6 hours were at a higher risk of developing a cold than those who slept more than 7 hours a night.
Sleep Quality Is Important for Your Immune System, Too
It's not just about logging hours in bed when it comes to the effectiveness of your body to fight off viruses—studies find that sleep quality is just as important as duration when fighting off the common cold. One study in Archives of Internal Medicine discovered that participants with less than 92 percent efficiency—how much time they were in bed and actually asleep—were more than five times more likely to get a cold than those people in the study who were asleep 98 percent of the time they were in bed. That study also found that subjects with less than 7 hours of sleep were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold as those who logged more than 8 hours of sleep.
When you want to arm yourself against infectious diseases, one of the best ways to stay healthy is to make sure you're getting the hours of good quality sleep your body needs.