For Part 4 in our series on Supporting a Healthy Immune System, we’ll be focusing on the importance of sleep for immune function. 

If you’re feeling sleep-deprived, now is the time to prioritize rest. Getting high quality sleep is important for keeping our immune system healthy. When you don’t get enough sleep, there’s a reduction in NK cell activity, part of the immune system responsible for responding to virus-infected cells. Sleep deprivation also makes certain cells in the immune system less effective against infection. 

Experts recommend getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night for keeping your immune system to be in top form. Getting high-quality sleep is also important for blood sugar regulation and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. 

If you find yourself having difficulty drifting off, try these tips to improve your sleep quality:

 

Turn off screens

If you are able, turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed. Blue light emitted by screens suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, making it difficult to fall asleep. Many phones also have a dim light setting that can be scheduled for evening hours, and there are applications that can help, too.

 

Adjust the thermostat

Bedroom temperatures that are too warm can interfere with the body’s natural set point and can affect the sleep quality of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, needed for learning and memory. Researchers believe that the ideal sleeping temperature is around 65° F (18° C). Turn down the heater at night in the wintertime and cozy up with a warm blanket, instead.

 

Cut the caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can reduce both the quantity and quality of sleep. Caffeine can circulate in the body anywhere from 8-12 hours, so have your last cup o’ joe or caffeinated tea by early afternoon.

 

Establish a schedule

Similar to how you get hungry at the same time each day, your body likes to go to sleep and wake up around the same time. Sticking to a bedtime, even on the weekends, helps set your body’s internal clock and establish a natural sleep-wake cycle.

 

Take a bath

Having a hot bath or shower one to two hours before bed can help you fall asleep more quickly and improve your sleep quality. The hot water helps improve your circulation from your body core, which in turn helps with the body temperature drop needed for optimal sleep. Studies found that 10 minutes in a bath or shower was all that was needed for the sleep benefits.

 

Form a ritual

A calming bedtime ritual such as dimming the lights, reading a book, doing bedtime yoga, or having a soothing cup of chamomile tea can help signal to your body that it’s time for sleep. Try to start this ritual 30 – 60 minutes before you’re scheduled to go to bed. Set a timer on your phone or watch if you need a reminder. Get ready to drift off…

 

 

Note: If you have issues with chronic insomnia or suspect you have sleep apnea, be sure to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Reviewed by Heather King, MS, RDN​, CDE

on April 2, 2020. Heather is a Certified Diabetes Educator, has been a Registered Dietitian for over 12 years and is Brook's Health Director.