With back-to-school season upon us, it is important you don’t overlook this simple, yet utterly important strategy for supporting your immune function. Whether it’s hitting the hay, visiting slumber land, or catching some ZZZ’s – whatever you want to call it – getting solid, sound sleep each night is critical for a healthy immune response.

Because our schedules change during back-to-school season, our sleep schedules tend to change as well. And usually not for the better, because many of us already aren’t getting the ideal amount of sleep. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 million Americans persistently suffer from sleep deprivation.

So, whether you or your children are schooling at home or going back in person, quality sleep is important to keep your immune response in optimal condition.

How Sleep Supports Your Immune Health

When your computer acts up or runs slow, the first step is to reboot it. The reboot clears your device drivers, shuts down programs, and refreshes the operating system. Sleep is essentially the body’s way of rebooting – and multiple essential processes happen during sleep.

When you sleep, your body repairs damaged muscles and tissues, while also promoting new growth, processing memories and information in your brain, and releasing important hormones that regulate your body’s normal functions – including immune function.

Like parents have told children for centuries, getting a good night’s sleep helps ensure you don’t get sick. And research backs that up. Studies show that shorter sleep duration, or sleep deprivation, is associated with an increased susceptibility to illnesses such as the common cold.A lack of sleep also affects how fast you recover when you do get sick.

What exactly goes on behind the scenes when we sleep? Why is sleeping so important for our immune function?

During the several stages of sleep, our body releases tiny proteins called cytokines. Cytokines are released from many types of cells to initiate or regulate a whole range of functions. Cytokines are critically important for regulating the inflammatory response and orchestrating how the body responds to infection.Essentially, these tiny proteins call the rest of your body’s immune cells to action.

However, if you are sleep deprived, then your body makes and releases fewer cytokines, making it harder for your body to respond and protect itself.

T-cells, which are specialized immune cells, help recognize and fight harmful substances in the body. T-cells work by utilizing integrins, a protein that allows T-cells to latch onto harmful substances and fight them off. New research shows that better sleep quality directly boosts the effectiveness of T-cells.3 The study, which compared the T-cells of participants who slept through a night to those who stayed awake, found that the T-cells in the individuals who slept had a higher level of integrin activity than those who were sleep deprived.3

Testing Your ZZZ’s

So, it’s easy to see that sleep is important. But how can you tell whether the sleep you’re getting is quality sleep? The first step is to understand the sleep cycle and the hormones that control it – melatonin and cortisol.

Think of these hormones like the moon and the sun. Melatonin, the moon, is the signal your body uses when it’s time to start the sleep process. Melatonin regulates your body’s internal biological clock and is typically most active in your body during the evening and at night – “typically,” because certain factors can disrupt the natural release of melatonin. These factors include things like being exposed to too much light, working night shifts, or jet lag. These factors can disrupt melatonin production in the body, which in turn disrupts your sleep cycle.

Cortisol is like the sun; it helps you wake up and tells your body it’s time to kickstart the day. You might have heard cortisol called the “stress” hormone, which it is, but at healthy levels and at the right time cortisol signals your body to be awake and responsive. Cortisol is ideally most active in the body first thing in the morning. However, certain factors, such as chronic stress, lifestyle, diet, and adverse health issues, can cause unbalanced cortisol levels, which in turn affects your sleep cycle.

So, in a perfect world, these two hormones are in perfect harmony – helping you get the quality sleep your body needs each night. If only that were the case. As we all know, stress, work, and even a schedule change brought on by back-to-school season can disrupt our sleep cycle and hormone levels.

Handling Hormone Imbalances

Irregular levels of either of these two hormones could be the culprit for poor sleep quality. For example, not enough melatonin at night can cause difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, waking up too early, fatigue, not feeling rested, and daytime tiredness or sleepiness.

On the other hand, if your melatonin level is too high during the day, you can end up feeling excess fatigue, grogginess, or a reduced core body temperature.

If cortisol levels are too high at the wrong times, then you might feel “wired but tired,” or experience disturbed sleep, excessive hunger, weight gain, and anxious moods. If your cortisol levels are too low, however, then you can feel fatigued all the time, have a low mood, get sick more frequently, and have a hard time responding to normal stress.

If you want to see where your levels of these two hormones are – and optimize their levels – then consider testing them. Thorne offers a simple at-home test kit that measures your melatonin and cortisol levels, so you can track their fluctuations as they regulate your sleep-wake cycle. You can order the test kit online, collect your samples in the privacy of your home, and get your results with an easy-to-understand analysis and personalized recommendations you can discuss with your health-care practitioner.

Your Ticket to Dreamland

We have previously discussed the healthy habits for building a better sleep routine, including things like:

  1. Keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet
  2. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, including weekends
  3. Using sleep masks, earplugs, room-darkening curtains, a fan, or a white-noise machine
  4. Adopting a nightly relaxation technique
  5. Avoiding alcohol as a sleep aid
  6. Limiting screen time before bedtime
  7. Exercising regularly to improve sleep quality – but not too close to bedtime
  8. Better managing stress

Of course, with the stress of school starting – or for parents now helping their children learn from home – you might need some extra support. If that’s the case, then there’s Thorne’s Sleep Bundle, a trio of lights-out formulas that promote falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up refreshed and recharged for a better morning.*

The Sleep Bundle contains the following three sleep solutions:

  1. Magnesium Bisglycinate: When it comes to basic minerals that can help with sleep, magnesium should be at the top of the list. Despite its key role in sleep and muscle relaxation, many of us don’t get enough magnesium. Thorne’s Magnesium Bisglycinate is an ideal magnesium formula for those looking to unwind, because it provides 200 mg per scoop of highly-absorbable magnesium in a powdered formula that promotes restful sleep and muscle relaxation.*
  2. Melaton-3: With 3 mg of melatonin per capsule, this formula helps maintain the normal sleep-wake cycle – known as the circadian rhythm.* In individuals who have difficulty sleeping or an altered circadian rhythm – such as occurs in jet lag and night shift work – melatonin supplementation promotes the resynchronization of this cycle.*
  3. PharmaGABA-250: Contains the natural form of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that supports restful sleep, acts like a "brake" on stress, and provides a calm but focused state of mind.*

References

  1. Prather A, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall M, Cohen S. Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep 2015;38(9):1353-1359.
  2. Zdravkovic N, Rosic M, Lutovac M, Zdravkovic V. Physiology and pathology of cytokine: commercial production and medical use. Physiol Pathol Immunol December 2017. doi:10.5772/intechopen.72200
  3. Dimitrov S, Lange T, Gouttefangeas C, et al. Gas-coupled receptor signaling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells. J Exp Med 2019;216(3):517-526.