Supporting a Healthy Immune System:

Part 4: Sleep

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 often 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 (and waketime), even on the weekends, helps your body’s internal clock establish a natural sleep-wake cycle. 

 

How many more minutes of sleep do you need to reach at least 7 hours or your ideal amount? For example, let’s say you only get 6 hours each night so you need to add on 60 minutes to reach 7 hours of sleep. It seems daunting to try and add in an extra hour every day! Instead, back up your current bedtime by 10 minutes tonight, and go to bed at this new time every day for a week. Continue to back up your bedtime by an additional 10 minutes each week for 6 weeks, and you’ll reach your ideal sleeping amount.

 
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.

That’s everything for this week!

Now it’s time to pick your goal:

 Move your bedtime back 10 minutes and stick to it 5 times this week
Limit caffeine after 1 pm 3 times this week
Form your bedtime ritual and follow it 3 times this week

Chat with an Expert and let them know what you’ll be working on this week!

Reviewed by Emily Matson, MS, RDN​

on September 30, 2020. Emily is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Brook Experts.