Are your sleep habits affecting your immune system?

Article written by Bec’s Lowe Nutritionist

We all know the effects of not getting a good night’s sleep, you wake feeling tired and sluggish, your mind just isn’t as sharp as usual and your healthy eating goes out the window. But did you know that it could also be affecting your immune system?

Not getting the required amount of sleep once in a while isn’t the end of the world, it’s when poor sleep becomes a habit that your health and wellbeing suffer.

When we sleep, the body goes to work cleaning wastes from our cells and repairing muscles. The immune system is active at this time making sure all the ‘housework’ is done so that your body is recharged and ready for the next day.

Getting enough quality sleep is essential for your immune system to function effectively and a lack of sleep can affect how your immune cells function making you more susceptible to infection.

A lack of sleep can have both short and long-term effects on health. In the short term, studies have shown that people who sleep less than 6 or 7 hours per night are at higher risk of infection and are more likely to catch the common cold or the flu. In the long term, a lack of sleep has been linked to chronic health concerns such as an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, mood disorders, diabetes and weight gain.

Your sleep may also affect your protection from vaccines. Studies have clearly shown that sleep improves the effectiveness of vaccines and that in sleep deprived people the body’s immune response is weaker reducing the vaccine’s protection.

Adults need around 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Prioritising sleep and allowing your body to rest and repair can really help your immune response in these challenging times with Covid-19 all around us. Here are 5 ways you can create better sleep habits for stronger immunity:

1. Set your sleep schedule – having a consistent wake-up time and bedtime helps your body to get into a rhythm of regular sleep. Calculate your target lights-out time based on your wake-up time and factor in 7-9 hours of sleep. Build in a 30-minute wind down time before lights out where you do something calming such as a meditation, deep breathing, a relaxing bath, journaling, or read a book (not on a screen).

2. Avoid screens and bright lights before bed – I know this is a hard one for some but it really makes a huge difference in the quality of your sleep. Build in 30-60mins before bed that is device free and dim your lights. Screens emit blue light which affects your melatonin production, a hormone needed for quality sleep. They also provide mental stimulation which makes it harder to switch off and get to sleep.

3. Cut the stimulants – caffeine, sugar and alcohol all affect your sleep. It may seem like alcohol helps you to fall asleep, but as the effects wear off your sleep is disrupted later in the night. The stimulating effects of caffeine last for hours after that last cup of coffee. Aim to go caffeine free from 2pm and limit the amount of sweet treats and alcohol you have before bed. Opt instead for a cup of calming herbal tea such as lemon balm, chamomile or a sleep blend.

4. Don’t eat late – having a big meal close to bedtime means your body is still trying to digest your food when you are trying to go to sleep. This will not only affect your sleep but has negative effects on your digestive system. Aim to eat at least 2-3 hours before bed and if you have to eat closer to bedtime, keep it light.

5. Be physically active during the day – exercise not only helps you to fall asleep faster, but it also increases the amount of deep sleep that you get (the type that is important for our immune function and mental health). Try to avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime as this can negatively affect sleep by increasing your heart rate and body temperature. Gentle stretches or yoga can help you wind down and get you ready for a good night’s sleep.

If your sleep is chronically bad and you need some extra help, working with health professional such as a naturopath can help get to the root cause of your problem and offer effective natural solutions to your sleep issues. Get in touch if you like to have a chat about how I may be able to help you. Your immune system will thank you for it!


Becs Lowe