Sleep And The Immune System

Dr. Ariel Thorpe

Everyone knows that sleep is important. Although some people brag about being able to still function after only a few hours sleep, biochemically there are certain effects that do not bode well for skipping out on hours of restful, rejuvenating sleep.

Multiple studies have been done to look at the effects of reduced sleeping time on the immune system. Some of the most compelling research shows dangerous consequences to not getting enough sleep at night. One study restricted sleep in participants to only 4 hours of sleep and what they found when they looked at the blood labs of these people is that they had a significant decrease of a specific type of white blood cell or immune cell. Natural Killer Cells are responsible for finding and destroying our own cells that have become infected with a pathogen as well as cancerous cells. Natural Killer Cells have had attention lately because they are responsible for our immune response against Covid-19 infected cells. So, needless to say, we all want our NK Cells to be in healthy abundance for the virus du jour, Covid-19, but also the long-standing top killer, cancer. Sleep research has shown that people who have gotten only 4 hours of sleep have a 70% decrease in the number of NK Cells in their blood the following day. That is alarming. Now imagine if you are chronically under-slept. It's no wonder people are so scared of a virus.

Sleep is a basic and usually enjoyable human activity that makes a huge difference in our potential immune system response to a pathogen or cancer. So, prioritize sleep for better immune function.

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