A young couple lies in bed sick and sleepless.

Not Getting Enough Sleep Can Make You Sick

Not Getting Enough Sleep Can Make You Sick

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Nobody feels good after a sleepless night or when they must wake up after just a few hours of rest. Now, science is showing that a lack of sleep can actually make you sick.

The human body needs to rest daily, yet about 1 in 4 Americans struggle with some type of sleep disorder. But that is just a number, how does a lack of sleep actually affect your health? Lately, research has shown an incredibly strong connection between sleep and the efficiency of our immune systems. Read on to get a closer look at how the amount of rest you get at night impacts your ability to fight off illness.

How Does Sleep Affect Our Health?

After just one restless night, most people feel groggy, irritable and hungrier than usual. They also have difficulty concentrating and multitasking. If they continue to experience a lack of sleep, the health effects become more pronounced and more dangerous. These include high blood sugar, problems handling stress, faulty memory, mood swings and impaired reaction time.

The effects of long-term sleep deprivation include a higher risk for some serious health problems like stroke, heart attack, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression and more. Rest is so crucial to our wellbeing that a chronic lack of rest has been shown to shorten a person’s lifespan.

How Does Sleep Affect Our Immune System?

Another serious physical side effect of too little sleep is decreased efficiency of our body’s ability to fight infection. The immune system is the body’s main defense against illnesses and studies have shown that it requires rest. People who do not get enough quality sleep at night tend to get sick more often. They are more likely to contract common viruses, like the cold and flu, as well as more serious infectious diseases.

In fact, some research in the field has shown that sleep deprivation can ruin the protective effect of the flu vaccine. This means that the immune system is ineffective at fighting off the common virus even after receiving a vaccination. Plus, a weakened immune system makes it more difficult to recover from illnesses when they are contracted.

Lower White Cell Count

How exactly are sleep and the immune system related to each other? Sleep research has revealed that when people consistently get less than the recommended amount of rest, bodily systems involved in the immune response begin to shut down. After just two nights of sleep deprivation, subjects had lower white cell counts. This means that a lack of sleep would result in a lower antibody response to any infection encountered.

Decreased Production of Cytokines

Another way that sleep affects immunity is seen in the release of a particular protein called cytokines. Cytokines both promote quality rest and help the body deal with inflammation, stress and infections. Studies point to a connection between sleep deprivation and the production of these protective proteins. As a result, the body’s immune response is weakened and has lower defenses when faced with the flu or cold.

Suppression of Melatonin

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is also a link between insufficient sleep and a higher risk of cancer. A higher instance of breast cancer has been found among women doing shift work, while men working shifts have a higher rate of prostate cancer. People suffering from circadian rhythm disorders are also at greater risk for tumors.

This effect of sleep deprivation is not entirely understood yet. Some hypothesize that the risk of cancer increases because of suppressed melatonin production at night. Both shift work and circadian rhythm disorder involve a disruption of the body’s natural sleep cycle which is fundamental to the supply of melatonin.

How Much Sleep Do We Need to Stay Healthy?

Doctors recommend that adults get 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night. It is important for our physical health and mental wellbeing. Sleep is a restorative resting period that the body needs to function properly.

In order to feel energized throughout the day and safeguard your health, you need to prioritize sleep. If you are unable to get enough shut-eye at night, try catching up with naps. Just 30 minutes of rest during the day can help decrease stress and reinvigorate the body. This can be an effective solution to keeping your immune system strong during cold and flu season. In the long term, getting enough sleep can also help decrease your risk for heart problems, diabetes and stroke…just to name a few.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

If you are waking up frequently, having trouble falling asleep or consistently feeling fatigued during the day, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can provide you with a referral for sleep evaluation at a certified clinic in order to identify what is keeping you up at night. This is the first step in finding the best solution for you to get the rest you need.

Contact Sleep Health Solutions at (330) 923-0228 to set up a consultation.

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