Sleep is essential for good health. It is a well established fact that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to immune system disfunction, chronic disease conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and even death. Yet, many of us (one out of three Americans, in fact) tend to put little emphasis on sleep. According to data published by the CDC, sleep problems, whether in the form of medical disorders or related to work schedules or a fast-paced, high-pressure lifestyle, are pervasive in our modern society. (1)
Sleep and Your Immune System
When you sleep your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which actually help to promote sleep. These cytokines assist your body in overcoming infections as well as recovering from stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines.
Additionally, nocturnal sleep, especially slow wave sleep or deep sleep, prevalent early in the night, promotes the release of growth hormone and prolactin, while anti-inflammatory actions of cortisol and catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) are at their lowest levels. This endocrine milieu during early sleep supports the proper functioning of the adaptive immune system by promoting the interaction between antigen presenting cells and T cells, and the formation of long-lasting immunological memories. This helps the body create a more robust defense against infectious organisms like viruses and bacteria.(2), (3)
In a fascinating book I recently read, Why We Sleep, Unlocking The Power of Sleep and Dreams, the author, Mathew Walker, says that consistently failing to get six or seven hours of sleep considerably weakens your immune system and increases one's risk of cancer, high blood pressure, coronary artery plaque accumulation and blockage due to an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).