Caring for your immune system is about more than washing your hands, taking supplements and trying to eat lots of citrus fruits and leafy greens. Healthy immune function is also about making sure to get the best, most restful sleep (even if it’s not the recommended eight hours!) and reducing your stress levels whenever possible.
Both sleep and stress have a major impact on your immune health; when you’re not sleeping well, when things are in overdrive, or you can’t relax, your immune system can suffer alongside your mood and energy. Discover the link between sleep, stress, and immune health so you can best support your immune health — and your general wellness.
The link between sleep and immune health
Sleep impacts your life so much, from your mood to your stress levels to your skin’s restorative processes. Sleep is something our bodies are hard-wired to do, though circadian rhythms can be disrupted by everything from digital devices to pets and kids to your never-ending to-do list.
A lack of regular, restful sleep may lead to being more likely to catch a cold or fall sick. When you’re asleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines, which help promote sleep and can increase when you’re feeling stressed. If you aren’t sleeping enough, the production of cytokines can slow down, as can the production of antibodies and white blood cells AKA the first line of defense against illness.
Stress and sleep — a not-so-perfect pair
Stress is a normal part of life; we all go through stressful periods at home, at work, and in relationships. It’s practically impossible to live a stress-free life but reducing your stress levels can support your immune health in a big way.
When you’re dealing with stress, your immune system can’t work at its best. Many studies have shown that stress, whether short- or long-term, weakens the immune system; chronic stress can be particularly harmful.
Stress causes your body to secrete the hormone cortisol, which in turn can decrease your white blood cell (or lymphocyte) levels and weaken their ability to fight back against viruses and other invaders, making you more likely to get sick.
So what can you do about your stress levels? If you’re dealing with a particularly busy week or two, implement some simple strategies to help yourself cope and thrive. Consider starting a mindfulness practice to understand your energy and reactions. Exercise can be a great way to handle stress and anxiety, as can journaling, working with a therapist, or scheduling time to focus on self-care, whatever that means for you. Stress happens to all of us, but it shouldn’t take over your life — or make you sick.