Sleep: The Most Overlooked Immune BoosterOrna Villazan, BSc, ND
November 3, 2023
Is your immune system falling short? How’s your sleep been? We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and yet we rarely stop to consider how vast an impact it has on our physical and mental health. Most of us view sleep as just something we have to do. But sleep deserves a significant shift in perspective. Could we actively prioritize sleep and reap its many health promoting benefits? Could it be our personal immune booster?
A TWO WAY STREET
Sleep and immunity are bidirectionally linked. This means that what affects one affects the other. We catch a cold or the flu and we feel tired, our first instinct is to sleep it off as much as possible. There’s a reason for this. Infection can actually induce more sleep – a highly protective mechanism that allows our body to go into super repair mode while we sleep.
The opposite is true as well however. If our sleep is disturbed or we haven’t been getting enough, our immune function takes a hit, and we become more vulnerable to infection and disease.
THE LOW DOWN ON LACK OF SLEEP
The way we understand it today, a lack of sleep essentially means a lack of repair and clean up throughout the body. As a result, inflammation persists rather than receding back to normal levels. This unfortunately leads to:
- Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
- More pain and neurodegenerative diseases
- Increased risk of depression
- Poorer outcomes in many illnesses, including cancer
- Increased susceptibility to the common cold
So clearly, not getting enough good quality sleep can be a health hazard.
WHAT TURNS ON AS WE TURN OFF?
While we may be deep in sleep and effectively ‘turned off’ for the night, there is actually a lot going on within the body and brain.
Our immune system gets a boost
Certain components of our immune system have increased activity while we sleep and are driven in part by our 24hr circadian rhythm. These chemical messengers (called cytokines) seem to ultimately have the role of strengthening our immune system. It turns out that sleep positively supports our immune memory.
The glymphatic system detoxes the brain
Only recently discovered, the glymphatic system is proving to be key for flushing out cellular waste from the brain, essentially acting as a type of pump that ‘detoxes’ the central nervous system. Turns out this is vitally protective against neurodegenerative diseases. This occurs mostly while we are in deep sleep – so it’s not only about the quantity of sleep we get, but also the quality.
WHAT SHOULD WE AIM FOR?
At a minimum, research tells us we require 7 hours of sleep a night, but most can benefit from 8 and even 9 hours a night. How often are you getting a good 8 hours of sleep?
HOW TO OPTIMIZE SLEEP QUALITY
Making sleep important in your life and giving it the time and space it requires is maybe one of the biggest challenges many of us face with our busy lives and constant modern distractions. But this is where it begins – make sleep a precious priority in your life.
Once that commitment to yourself is made, the rest becomes about improving the quality of your sleep. Some of these helpful tips include:
- Being consistent. Get to bed before 10pm regularly and wake at similar hours all week long.
- Help your nervous system switch into relaxation mode before you get to bed. No more late night emails, turn the screens off, and explore different relaxation routines you enjoy (a warm bath, a meditation, writing in your journal …).
- Seek help for any health conditions that are affecting your sleep. Pain, sleep apnea, anxiety/depression and hormonal shifts can all have a big impact on your sleep and can be improved upon for the most part with appropriate care and support.
NUTRITIONAL DOS AND DON’TS
We’re all inundated with lots of dietary advice on a regular basis, often with contradictory messages. It’s confusing. Truth is, there’s no one way to eat that suits us all. So try some different things out and pay attention to how you feel – your energy, your mood, your digestion, and yes even your sleep. This will ultimately help you find the best way to eat for you.
When it comes to optimizing your sleep and immunity, there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind that will fit into just about any nutritional approach you settle on:
- Cut out the processed and refined foods. The closer your food is to how it left the farm, the better you are.
- Avoid refined sugar in particular and sweeteners in general. These suppress immune function and stimulate your nervous system enough to potentially interfere with sleep
- If sleep is a challenge, cut out the caffeine for a month. Yes, completely. I know it’s tough, but it’s only contributing to and prolonging the problem. Give it a try and see how you do.
- Eat lots of veggies, especially the green leafys. We all know we should, but most of us don’t actually follow through. But these offer essential nutrients to boost immune function and optimize sleep. We simply can’t get by without them. Botanica’s Perfect Greens can be an added support if needed.
- Ensure good amounts of protein on a regular basis – with every meal if possible. This is one area many of us fall short. Protein offers us the building blocks for many of our immune compounds, such as all our antibodies, as well as our neurotransmitters which can impact our mental health and sleep. For added plant based protein, Botanica offers a couple of easy go-tos with additional therapeutic support for sleep and immunity.
CONSIDERING SOME ADDITIONAL HERBAL SUPPORT?
We all need an extra helping hand from time to time. We live in a world where chronic stress is everywhere and that alone can throw a big wrench in our health goals. The beauty of nature is that there is no lack of support for whatever our challenges are. When it comes to long term support of healthy sleep and optimal immune function, my favourite go-to herbs are:
A calming adaptogen that helps us better cope with the stresses and challenges that life throws our way, with the additional benefit of supporting deep sleep. Botanica offers super concentrated capsules for high dose support, or combines it with one of my favourite herbs for improved sleep quality, Passionflower, in the Deep Sleep formula.
This is a more stimulating adaptogen, so not one I would recommend for sleep but rather to help you with an energetic boost to get you through your day. It offers additional immune support along the way and can help reset your 24hr circadian rhythm by getting you going in the morning. Botanica’s Super Concentrated Rhodiola Liquid Caps are a great option.
This potent sleep aid is a classic for helping people fall asleep a little more quickly and deeply. If insomnia is an ongoing challenge for you, give this herb a try before bed, it could be just what you need to help you regain a healthy sleep pattern. Botanica’s Valerian Liquid Herb allows you to adjust your dose to suit you best.
Of all the lifestyle and dietary tools we have at our disposal to improve our health, sleep is absolutely vital. And the best thing…? There’s no effort involved. You get to sleep and rest as you actively work towards boosting your immune system and improving your health overall.
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiological Reviews, 99(3), 1325–1380. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00010.2018
Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Leproult, R. et al. Effects of poor and short sleep on glucose metabolism and obesity risk. Nat Rev Endocrinol 5, 253–261 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2009.23
Grandner MA, Alfonso-Miller P, Fernandez-Mendoza J, Shetty S, Shenoy S, Combs D. Sleep: important considerations for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Curr Opin Cardiol. 2016 Sep;31(5):551-65. doi: 10.1097/HCO.0000000000000324. PMID: 27467177; PMCID: PMC5056590. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27467177/
Irwin, M., Opp, M. Sleep Health: Reciprocal Regulation of Sleep and Innate Immunity. Neuropsychopharmacol 42, 129–155 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2016.148
Hakim F, Wang Y, Zhang SX, Zheng J, Yolcu ES, Carreras A, Khalyfa A, Shirwan H, Almendros I, Gozal D. Fragmented sleep accelerates tumor growth and progression through recruitment of tumor-associated macrophages and TLR4 signaling. Cancer Res. 2014 Mar 1;74(5):1329-37. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-3014. Epub 2014 Jan 21. PMID: 24448240; PMCID: PMC4247537. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24448240/
Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, Cohen S. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1;38(9):1353-9. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4968. PMID: 26118561; PMCID: PMC4531403. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26118561/
Irwin, M.R. Sleep and inflammation: partners in sickness and in health. Nat Rev Immunol 19, 702–715 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41577-019-0190-z