Skip to main content

What Happens to Our Immune System When We Don’t Sleep Well?

< Back to the article list

Not getting enough quality sleep at night can make you feel groggy and all around junky the next day, but what you may not be aware of is that poor sleep can also do a number on the strength of your immune system.

Research published in Pflugers Archiv: European Journal of Physiology suggests that T cells — cells that are a central part of our immune system and that destroy other cells that are infected with germs — are redistributed to our lymph nodes when we snooze. During sleep, our bodies also boost the production of cytokines — proteins that help regulate inflammation and interact with T helper cells to work together in the immune system. When we don’t get enough sleep, the lack of cytokine production in addition to T cells not being able to get into our lymph nodes can weaken the immune system, leaving us susceptible to diseases like the common cold and even making vaccines less effective, since our bodies can’t respond to the virus as well as they should.

While lack of sleep may inhibit the production and transport of T cells and cytokines, it may also lower white blood cell count. According to The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, both animal and human studies have looked at the connection between lack of sleep and white blood cell count, and show evidence that when we’re sleep deprived, our white blood cell count drops, which indicates lowered immune function.

How to Get Better Sleep (and Help Your Immune System)

Now that you know how important sleep is to preserve your body’s defenses and immune system, there are a few ways you can set yourself up for sleep success, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Make a sleep schedule and stick to it.

Getting up and going to sleep at the same time every day will help your body get into a natural rhythm. Try to follow this on the weekends as well as you can, aiming to wake and go to bed within 30 minutes of your weekday schedule.

Get some exercise.

It helps improve sleep quality and reduces stress, which may also help you fall asleep faster and easier.

Avoid electronics before bed.

The bright light can mess up your circadian rhythm, tricking your body into waking up when it should be getting ready to sleep.

Skip the nightcap.

A glass of wine or a cocktail at the end of the day is nice, but having alcohol too close to bedtime may disrupt your sleep. (The same goes for spicy meals that could cause indigestion, caffeine, and cigarettes.)

Have a room setup that will help you sleep well.

Keep your room on the cooler side, no higher than 67 degrees Fahrenheit when possible, and make sure to have the right sleep-well gear, depending on the season. This may mean getting a high-quality humidifier to add moisture to dry air that’s common in the winter or blackout curtains to help with an earlier sunrise in the spring and summer months.

Stocking up on Breathe Right Nasal Strips can also come in handy if a stuffy nose is wreaking havoc on your sleep! Breathe Right strips open your nose to relieve snoring and nighttime nasal congestion, helping you breathe better, and sleep better.

Related articles