Sleep and Immune Health

April 30, 2020


Heather Maddox, MD

Do you feel well-rested and that you get enough sleep?

Getting quality rest is an essential part of our health and well being but often gets overlooked. Day to day stress, heavy to-do lists, and anxiety can get in the way of getting enough shut-eye. In fact, about 60 million adults in the United States struggle with inadequate sleep or insomnia.

What is normal sleep?

You should be able to fall asleep easily, usually within 30 minutes, stay asleep during the night, not wake up too early, and feel refreshed in the morning. If you do wake up in the middle of the night, you should be able to fall back to sleep easily.

We transition through sleep cycles consisting of four phases throughout the night including two phases of light sleep as well as REM and deep sleep. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, and the quality of sleep is different depending on age.

A good rule of thumb is to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, ideally between 10-11 pm to 6-7 am.

How does sleep affect our health?

As we move through the different stages of sleep during the night, many important bodily functions are impacted.

Sleep and our circadian rhythm exert a strong influence on immune functions, working in tandem, and the specific time of day we sleep is key to this. Getting 8 hours of sleep between 3 am – 11 am is not the same as sleeping between 10 pm – 6 am.

Sleeping just 30 minutes less than usual increases our CRP level, which is a marker of inflammation in the body. Prolonged sleep deprivation increases the production of cytokines by the immune system which can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation. This stress on the immune system can cause deficiencies and decrease our immune defenses.

Sleep is the most important factor for healthy adrenal function. Our adrenal glands produce cortisol which is a key component of our stress response and keeps us energized throughout the day. As little as three consecutive nights of poor sleep can alter the secretion of cortisol. In addition, sleep deprivation can lead to premature aging.

What about brain health? Most of us have experienced brain-fog after a poor night’s sleep. This occurs for several reasons. Our brain uses a tremendous amount of energy during the day and generates waste products that need to be removed when we sleep, much like taking out the trash. If we don’t get enough restful sleep, some of that debris can be left behind and affect us the next day. We can have difficulty processing what we have learned and remembering information. Long term, this can have an impact on our memory.

How can we Improve our Sleep?

Here are some simple strategies we can all do to improve our sleep:

  • Try to engage in a relaxation practice daily, especially 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. This can be as simple as taking 4-5 deep breaths. Even better is a bath in Epsom salts by candlelight! (Try an essential oil candle, like lavender or chamomile).
  • Maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle including weekends. Go to bed and wake up at consistent times.
  • Dim the lights or use blue-blocker tools to help increase your natural melatonin production
  • Sleep in a cool environment between 60-67 degrees
  • Consider supplements like magnesium, passionflower, and valerian root daily/nightly to help promote relaxation

Need help identifying your cause of poor sleep? We recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner and health coach to help you overcome any barriers to restful sleep. Click on our Get Started button and schedule your complimentary 20-minute consultation today!!