Sleep and Health- Essential Bedfellows

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Many of us know what a bad night’s sleep feels like- we may go for that extra cup of coffee during the day, we may feel lower energy levels, and we may also be more irritable. Lots of research points to the importance of sleep for optimal brain function, cell health and general wellbeing, and we feel better after a good night’s rest.

A recent paper by Michael Irwin, published in Nature Immunology Reviews examines the importance of sleep as it relates to immune function. Our immune system does a lot of work on our bodies’ behalf. Thankfully we aren’t aware of most of the work it does as we are getting on with life, but perhaps we have some sense of things when we don’t feel well, like when we have a cold. Research on sleep deprivation shows how much and how rapidly cognitive decline can happen when we have a few nights of poor sleep. It is fair to say the hours we spend asleep is in decline. The average American gets six hours of sleep a night- not close to the recommended eight or the seven that is to be a threshold for health.

Irwin looked explicitly at the relationship between sleep and immune function. The findings show the reciprocal relationship between sleep and our nervous system functioning. Less sleep showing an increase in inflammatory markers, often associated with early disease development like those seen in heart disease and cancer. Even as little as one night’s sleep deprivation can negatively impact how our bodies optimally function, inflammatory signalling starts and has lots of downstream adverse effects for health- our body is in “alert” mode when this signalling starts which works well if we are dealing with a threat, but lots of false alarms are not good news for our health.

Sleep disturbances if persistent, can create a fertile ground for pro-inflammatory diseases like Alzheimers and depression to develop or accelerate. Poor sleep can also impact how well our bodies respond to vaccines which may leave us more open to colds and cases of flu as our bodies are dealing with mild or chronic inflammation.

Where we live, work, play, pray, learn can impact our sleep quality. A noisy urban environment may be beyond our control to influence, but persistent noise is a health hazard. The bottom line here is sleep enhances our immune defences, so actively focusing on ways to secure at least seven hours of sleep a night is prudent. How is your sleep hygiene routine? Are you in a room with low lighting to promote sleep? Are you looking at your smartphone or like device right before you turn in for the night? If yes, do you have sleep mode activated so the harmful blue light spectrum won’t signal to your brain to stay awake? Do you have regular sleep-wake cycles? Small disruptions like vacation travel lead the body to adapt, but persistent changes to sleep are bad for overall health.

Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)



Sleep and inflammation, partners in sickness and in health.

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