We all know that sleep plays an important role in being in good shape and being able to function well. But did you know that sleep also plays a role in the immune system? Our mothers meant it when they told us to rest when we had a bad cold!
How does the immune system affect sleep and vice versa?
Many studies report that sleep helps strengthen the immune system, and that less sleep makes us more susceptible to disease. In fact, an article from Futura Sciences reports, quoting a group of German researchers, that "(...) sleep can potentially improve the effectiveness of the immune response, says Stoyan Dimitrov of the University of Tübingen (Germany). And as the level of molecules needed to inhibit the activation of integrins is also observed in many pathological conditions such as cancer or simply stress, they could also explain why the immune system is inhibited in the face of certain diseases."
Integrin, produced and activated by T-cells, attaches itself to the diseased cells to eliminate them. And sleep is crucial for the activation of integrin: indeed, these researchers claim that a night without three hours of sleep "significantly" reduces the ability of T-cells to fight infections. Regeneration during sleep therefore provides increased resistance to viruses and bacteria.
Can you get sick if you don't get enough sleep?
Yes, the risks of getting sick if you regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep per night are very real! Indeed, an American study has shown that “subjects who had slept less than six hours a night the week before were 4.2 times more likely to catch the cold compared to those who got more than seven hours of sleep.” All the more reason to get a good night's sleep, right?
What about melatonin in all this?
What role does melatonin play in the immune function? By regulating sleep/wake rhythms, it also helps regulate the immune system (remember, the T-cells that activate the production of integrin during sleep!).
One thing is certain: a lack of sleep is bad for the immune system. Eat well, sleep well, eat well and live a healthy lifestyle—your immune system will be better off!
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