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Immune balance: Why sleep matters

Posted May 22 2012 6:27pm

It’s now the time of year here in Iowa where it’s 60 degrees at night with a slight breeze. Open the windows at night and there’s no better sleeping weather  to be found. I’ve written a bit over time about sleep and immune health . Sleep is one of the Five S’s for maintaining healthy immune function. But why? Why is sleep important for immune function? Some years ago, there was a movement that claimed sleep was biologically unnecessary . There was no cellular explanation as to what sleep actually accomplished, other than making one feel better or maybe giving your brain a rest.

That theory, of course, has been thoroughly dismissed.

Since we now understand so much more about the brain and its impact on physical health and wellness, if sleep rests and resets the brain, that has to be beneficial for the body.  As the American Sleep Association states : Sleep and sleep-related problems play a role in a large number of human disorders and affect almost every field of medicine. Neurons that control sleep interact closely with the immune system. As anyone who has had the flu knows, infectious diseases tend to make us feel sleepy. This probably happens because cytokines,chemicals our immune systems produce while fighting an infection, are powerful sleep-inducing chemicals. Sleep may help the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an attack.”

The problem is, we’re a sleep deprived nation , with 30% of American workers (40 million) saying they get less than 6 hours of sleep a night. That does not bode well for public health.  Sleeplessness can lead to chronic stress, which can lead to more sleeplessness, both of which can disrupt immune function and lead to illness.  A vicious circle. Any way to better support immune health during stretches of lack of sleep is essential.

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