A good night’s sleep makes us happy and its benefits keep us healthy. Without sleep one’s body becomes stressed and this can constrain the body’s ability to fight any disease. Disturbed sleep, especially when chronic, alters one’s hormonal balance (cortisol and melatonin) which may in turn influence the behaviour of healthy cells.
Here’s how each hormone works:
Cortisol helps synchronise the immune system tasks which include the release of natural killer cells that help the body combat various diseases like cancer. Cortisol levels typically increase at night after hours of sleep and reduce throughout the day.
Melatonin is processed by the brain during sleep and exhibits antioxidant properties that help avert damage to the body’s cells. Sleep deprivation leads to a fall in the production of melatonin which affects one’s immunity. Sound sleep maintains sufficient melatonin levels in the body while less sleep leads to too little production of melatonin. One must try and get seven to eight hours of undisturbed sleep every night.
Side-effects of less sleep
Sleeping for less than six hours during the night leads to a host of problems such as:
Obesity due to decreased levels of leptin (appetite suppressing hormone) and increased levels of grehlin (hunger stimulating hormone)
Increased risk of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance
Hypertension and increased risk of heart disease
Increased levels of cortisol in our body
Chronic sleep deprivation affects our ability to think and process things
Immunity is compromised
Lack of sleep post a vaccination also reduces the vaccine’s effect.
Our body is not getting enough rest and that is why our hormonal levels have gone haywire. There is a very close relationship between the circadian rhythm and immunity. Sleep is regulated by cytokines which are inflammatory mediators in both healthy as well as sick individuals. Just like sleep patterns, our immunity has a rhythm. Certain mediators go up during the day whereas others go up during the night. Sleep deprivation decreases the production of cytokines as well as infection fighting antibodies. White blood cells react immediately to sleep loss and directly mirror the body’s stress response which damages the immune system’s response of our body towards any infection or disease.
Getting plenty of sleep can help build a stronger immune system. The immune system is designed to protect us from cold, flu and other ailments but when immunity goes down it leads to sickness. The immune system is made up of several types of cells and proteins that are responsible for keeping diseases away from the body. Studies indicate that the number of T cells decreases if we are sleep deprived and inflammation of cytokines increases, this makes the body prone to cold, flu and infections. Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system’s functioning and makes one feel weaker and fatigued. Sleep loss can result in high levels of C-reactive protein-CRP, which causes inflammation and other illness.
To be healthy it’s important for one to improve his/her sleep quality. Deep breathing before sleeping will reduce cortisol levels and help one sleep well.