Getting a good night’s sleep is commonly recommended when we’re unwell, mainly by mums and usually preceded by a cup of hot soup or tea. They’re not wrong; sleep is essential when we’re sick as it allows the body a chance to fight the infection and recover.
Experts the world over have demonstrated the power of good quality sleep, proving that a solid night’s rest can work wonders for our physical and mental wellbeing. Sleep helps to regulate body temperature, conserve energy, manage a healthy weight, and maintain our immune system.
But can we sleep our way to a stronger immune system? We explore a recent study that suggests the answer may lie with T cells.
The immune system does a tremendous job at defending against invaders such as infectious bacteria and viruses. It keeps track of every germ it has ever fought so that it can recognise and destroy the germ quickly if it enters the body again, so our immune system needs to function optimally to prevent infection and fight off disease. Of course, we know this; the idea of boosting our immune system isn’t new. It’s popular and enticing, albeit scientifically misleading.
You see, we’re exposed to vast amounts of information on how to boost immunity: “immune-boosting” teas, smoothies, supplements, lotions and potions grace every high street health store. We’re fascinated by the links between lifestyle choices and immunity, but there are a lot of myths and bizarre claims floating around without scientific evidence behind them. The fact is, the immune system still baffles researchers; it is an extremely complex network of cells and molecules that, in order to function well, requires balance and harmony.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the immune system and whether we can “boost” it, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle is certainly a great place to start. In fact, it’s the single best step we can take towards naturally keeping our immune system strong and healthy, giving it the edge over infectious bacteria.
Sleep To Support Your T Cells
Alongside regular exercise and good nutrition, quality sleep is widely considered crucial to a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle. There are many reasons why sleep is so important: vital functions are replenished and restored while we sleep, supporting both our body and our mind, and now we’re starting to understand how it impacts our immune function.
Experts generally agree that a good night’s sleep on a regular basis ensures the immune system is strengthened. Whereas insufficient sleep weakens our body’s defence system, impairing immunity and making us more prone to infection.
Well, scientists from the University of Tübingen in Germany may have the answer. They suggest that sleep has a positive impact on the correct functioning of specialised immune cells called T cells.
T cells are a type of lymphocyte, a white blood cell in the immune system. They originate from hematopoietic stem cells found in the bone marrow. The T cell matures in the thymus gland (hence the T) and plays a central role in the body’s immune response.
When potentially harmful microorganisms enter the body, T cells recognize them as pathogens (disease-causing germs) and activate integrins, a type of protein that allows T cells to attach to and tackle pathogens.
This research, published in 2019, suggests that a good night’s sleep can boost the effectiveness of these immune warriors and helps them carry out this important role. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, reduces the efficiency of T cells. So if you’re not sleeping well regularly, taking some small steps to improve your sleep can play a critical role in supporting your immune system — as if we needed another excuse to improve our sleep quality!
Written by Chelsea Gurr