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“It is an old wives’ tale that if you don’t sleep well, you will get sick, and there is some experimental data that shows this is true,” says Diwakar Balachandran, MD, director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Though it’s not always easy to do, getting adequate sleep can help keep our immune systems primed for attack.

The Link Between Sleep and Immunity

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a laundry list of mental and physical health problems, including those that stem from an impaired immune system. Our immune system is designed to protect us from colds, flu, and other ailments, but when it is not functioning correctly, it fails to do its job. The consequences can include more sick days.

“A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived,” Balachandran says. “And inflammatory cytokines go up. … This could potentially lead to the greater risk of developing a cold or flu.”

In simple terms, sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function. Or, as Balachandran puts it, “The more all-nighters you pull, the more likely you are to decrease your body’s ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections.”

Lack of Sleep and Fevers

Sleep loss not only plays a role in whether we come down with a cold or flu. It also influences how we fight illnesses once we come down with them.

For example, our bodies fight infection with fevers. “One of the things that happen when we sleep is that we can get a better fever response,” Balachandran says. “This is why fevers tend to rise at night. But if we are not sleeping, our fever reaction is not primed so we may not be waging war on infection as best we can.”

Lack of Sleep and Vaccines

Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived also get less protection from flu vaccines than those who are getting adequate sleep.

John Park, MD, a pulmonologist who specialises in sleep medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, agrees. “We know that our immune response is suppressed when we are sleep deprived and that we develop fewer antibodies to certain vaccines if we are sleep-deprived,” Park says.

Fighting Illness: How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It appears that some people may do better on less sleep than others. “If you have a strong immune system, it may take longer for you to get run down if you are not sleeping,” says Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at a medical centre in New Jersey. “Some people may be able to drink a cup of coffee… and readjust. But if you have a weak immune system, you will likely be more prone to infection if you are not getting enough sleep.”

But Balachandran says the bottom line is this: “We live in a 24/7 society, and everyone has two jobs and is bombarded with media. So sleep seems expendable. But proper sleep is a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle.”

How to Get Enough Sleep

Balachandran offers some sleep hygiene tips for better health. “Go to sleep at the same time every day and wake up at the same time,” he says. “Make sure that your bedroom environment is well-suited for sleep. This means shutting off the computer and TV before bed.”

If you aren’t getting adequate sleep, Park says the most important question is: why? “Is it by choice or necessity, or because you physically are unable to sleep?” he asks. “If you physically can’t sleep due to insomnia or another underlying health problem, visit your doctor or a specialist to see what solutions are available.”

Management may include medications and sleep hygiene tips such as avoiding caffeine after lunch and not consuming alcohol within six hours of your bedtime. You may also learn relaxation and cognitive behavioural therapy techniques for changing actions or thoughts that may be impeding your ability to sleep.






As well as trying to get more shuteye, consider giving your immune system an extra boost with Releaf Echinacea capsules or Releaf Echinacea drops which contain added vitamin C (1) to protect the immune system and reduce the severity of allergic reactions. Echinacea also cuts the chances of catching a common cold by 58% and reduces the duration of the common cold by almost one-and-a-half days. (2)




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