Stress, Sleep, and the Immune System: Why You Need to (R3SET) Unwind Tonight!
Feeling stressed? Getting antsy, anxious, or moody lately? If so, don’t be shocked if you come down with a cold or something similar. Why? Stress has a big impact on the immune system. It’s not just stress’s effect on the immune system, however, that has you feeling icky. Stress also throws a wrench in our ability to get good, restful sleep, which makes our immune system further diminish. Now take that and extrapolate it by how often you feel stressed each month, each week, and even each day. Is your chronic, un-checked stress overtaxing your immune system, leading you to feel exhausted, wimpy, and let’s face it, not up to living your best life? Ready to get a handle on it? Good – read on!
The Immune System on Stress: Inflammation CentralStress inflames the body. Inflammation is a process in the body that protects you from viruses and bacteria. Once the call goes out that foreign enemy agents have arrived, your white blood cells and other troops like “natural killer cells,” rally to protect you by inflaming the appropriate areas to, in essence, burn out the offending intruders. Unfortunately, we don't just feel stress when bacteria or viruses invade; in fact, I'd wager those daily life stressors, many of them mental and emotional, are what stress us most during the day. The body, in all its brilliance, however, can't discern a physical threat from the other, so it treats all stress as a physical attack on the body.
Continued stress, also called chronic stress, leads to excess inflammation, which in turn lowers your ability to fight infection because, let’s face it, your body needs some time to rest and replenish it’s army of fighters. Just like you, they can’t work for days on end without rest and reinforcements. While they are taking a brief interlude, those outside agitators invade and boom – you’re sick! So, even if you didn’t start the inflammation process in response to a virus or bacteria, it may get you on the backend since stress wears down the immune system.
The Stress-Sleep ConnectionSleep fights against infection and sickness by deploying all manner of weaponry within your immune arsenal, cladding you with protection. When you do fall ill, the immune system actively stimulates the sleep system, demanding more bed rest to help reinforce the war effort. Reduce sleep even for a single night, and that invisible suit of immune resilience is rudely stripped from your body. Continue to get less than the regular seven to nine hours of sleep recommended each night and watch your immunity suffer. Look forward to more colds, headaches, exhaustion, and foggy lack of focus. And guess what? Too much stress can make falling and staying asleep a very hard task indeed. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation come to life.
Now, when you do sleep, your immune system reboots. It restores and repairs, making it stronger and decreasing the likelihood of falling prey to the sniffles and viruses others may be succumbing to. Don’t believe me yet? No problem, let’s take a look at the science.
The Science Part: Studies Galore!In a recent study, there were two groups of subjects (total 150) healthy men and women who were tracked for a week. They were then administered rhinovirus (the common cold) into their noses and tracked for another week. When looking at the groups, out of those with less than five hours of sleep per night, 50-percent caught a cold; whereas, of those sleeping seven or more hours per night, only 18-percent caught a cold. The authors concluded that shorter sleep duration, before viral exposure, was associated with increased susceptibility to the common cold bolstering the belief in the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.
In yet another landmark study, it was shown that a single night of only four hours of sleep decreased the amount of “natural killer” cells (cells that detect and destroy foreign invaders) of the immune system by over 50-percent versus those getting eight hours of sleep.
Here’s a final statistic that should drive the point home, especially as the world looks for a COVID vaccine. Researchers found that people getting less than six hours of sleep per night on average were far less likely than longer sleepers to show adequate antibody responses to vaccines, and so they were far more likely — 11.5 times more likely — to be unprotected by the immunization.