The Relationship Between Your Immune System and Sleep
Your immune system and sleep are connected. Sleep loss impacts your immune response and, in turn, your immune system alters your sleep. If you are trying to avoid getting sick, getting consistently long and quality sleep will be one of your primary methods of preventing illness and ensuring optimal recovery.
Molecules called cytokines are signaling molecules in the immune system and the brain. Sleep deprivation decreases your body’s production of cytokines and inhibits your immune response to illness. Such as:
- Chronic illness
Specifically, lack of sleep prevents your immune system from building up its forces, meaning that your immune system will be overloaded by illness and will likely take longer to recover.
During illness, increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines correspond with increased fatigue, which is why you feel tired when you are sick – it’s your body’s way of telling you to sleep more and recover quicker from your illness.
How Much Sleep Should You Get
Getting enough sleep is extremely important for preventing illness. Of course, this involves knowing how much sleep you should be getting.
The amount of sleep you should be getting varies based on age. Below are minimum, maximum, and recommended amount of sleep, which will help prevent sickness. [Sleep Foundation]
- Age 0-4 months
- Recommended 14-17 hours per day
- Not less than 11 hours
- Not more than 19 hours
- Age 4-12 months
- Recommended 12-15 hours
- Not less than 10 hours
- Not more than 18 hours
- Age 1-3 years
- Recommended 11-14 hours
- Not less than 9 hours
- Not more than 16 hours
- Age 3-5 years
- Recommended 10-12 hours
- Not less than 8 hours
- Not more than 14 hours
- Age 6-13 years
- Recommended 9-11 hours
- Not less than 7 hours
- Not more than 12 hours
- Age 13-18 years
- Recommended 8-10 hours
- Not less than 7 hours
- Not more than 11 hours
- Age 18+
- Recommended 7-9 hours
- Not less than 6 hours
- Not more than 10 hours
It important to ensure that you and your children are getting at least the recommended amount of sleep, but ideally much more.
Common Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep disorders are a common cause of chronic sleep deprivation, including:
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Circadian rhythm disorders
The primary symptom of sleep disorder is simply sleep deprivation – beyond this each sleep disorder has its own set of unique symptoms. Sleep disorders are not only bad for your health for many reasons, but them causing sleep deprivation also makes you much more likely to get sick more often, and take longer to recover from sickness.
Sleep disorders are especially insidious if you are dealing with chronic or long-term illness that already leaves you with a weak or compromised immune system, and it is imperative in such cases that you get lots of sleep to maintain energy and quality of life.
The Real Way to Make Up Sleep
We all go through periods of time where we are not getting enough sleep – stress, children, age related sleep changes, and travel are all prime examples of this. It’s important in these circumstances to ensure that you are making up sleep, i.e. repaying your sleep debt.
There is a very problematic misconception about the sleep debt: mainly that it works like a monetary debt that you can simply pay off in lump sums. In real life, that generally looks like this:
- Only get 5 or 6 hours of sleep during the week, surviving off of coffee
- Sleeping in lots during the weekend
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like this. Sleep studies show that getting one or two long nights of sleep does not remove the effects of sleep deprivation.
You can’t just pay it all back like paying back a loan in one or two lump sums. You repay your sleep debt by establishing a healthy pattern of sleep over a period of time, such as a week or more, such as:
- Get extra sleep on the weekend
- Get enough or a little bit of extra sleep every day the following week
In other words, getting over sleep deprivation involves consistent, restful sleep. If you are getting less sleep at night, you can supplement your sleep by taking naps.
If you live in Alaska and are dealing with chronic sleep deprivation or chronic sickness that may be sleep related, please take with free online sleep test and get started on your road to recover.