Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Deep Sleep: The Role of Immune System Regulation

The relationship between sleep and immune system functioning is well documented. Getting enough sleep is an easy yet effective way to improve your health.


Sleep is crucial for maintaining good physical and mental health. During sleep, your brain processes information, stores energy, and releases hormones that regulate bodily functions. Most people don't understand how important sleep is until they have a few restless nights. When you don't get enough sleep, you become more moody and irritated, and your cognitive functioning suffers, too. 

There are also long-term negative health consequences of not getting enough sleep. On the other hand, your immune system benefits when you get enough restorative sleep on a regular basis. Ignoring the relationship between good sleep and immune system functioning is impossible. By understanding why sleep matters, you may consider reprioritizing your health by improving your sleep routine.

How Sleep Affects the Immune System

Your immune system is your body's defense against disease and illness. There are two categories of immunity: innate immunity and adaptive immunity. While innate immunity is general and provides a non-specific defense against pathogens, you build adaptive immunity when exposed to a specific illness or receive a vaccine. With a robust immune system, your body can effectively fight off disease and prevent you from getting sick. Even if you fall ill, a strong immune system will shorten the duration and severity of your symptoms.

Cytokines play an important role in immune system functioning. Cytokines are proteins that communicate messages between the cells that make up your immune system. Cytokines facilitate immunity by helping your body respond appropriately to pathogens. Cytokines are also anti-inflammatory, decreasing inflammation and preventing an excessive immune response, which may lead to tissue damage. Without enough cytokines, your immune system cannot function as well as it should.

However, too many cytokines can have a negative effect as well Studies suggest that inadequate sleep may even result in a deregulated immune response, which leads to an overproduction of cytokines and increased inflammation. This imbalance increases your risk of autoimmune diseases like arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Researchers are also aware of the importance of sleep on the immune system as you get older. Inflammatory responses increase with age, and some people develop chronic inflammation. However, prioritizing sleep and getting at least seven hours may decrease inflammation among older adults. According to a 2014 study on sleep and aging, researchers found that regularly getting a good night's sleep can buffer against age-related inflammation and even boost mental health.

The Benefits of REM Sleep on Your Immune Response

When you sleep well, you can keep inflammation in check by reducing the inflammatory activity that occurs when your sleep is dysregulated and inadequate. There are several stages your body cycles through while sleeping. Stages one through three of sleep are NREM (nonrapid eye movement) stages, while the last stage is REM sleep. 

During REM sleep, your body goes through atonia, a temporary paralysis of the muscles. Only your eyes and the muscles that control breathing move at this stage. REM sleep is essential to healthy cognitive functioning, such as learning and storing memories. REM sleep is the most restorative stage, so receiving adequate amounts of it is crucial.

When you don't receive adequate deep sleep, you spend much less time in REM sleep. REM sleep deprivation causes an inflammatory response in your body, including elevated cytokine levels. Without proper sleep, this elevated inflammatory response may cause neuronal damage over time. However, when you get ample REM sleep, your immune system strengthens, and overall inflammation decreases.

Can Poor Sleep Quality Weaken the Immune System?

Yes, poor sleep quality can negatively affect your immune system. Another factor that influences sleep and your immune system is stress. Studies suggest an association between frequent stress and a weakened immune system. Prolonged stress leads to overproduction of the hormone cortisol. While cortisol may initially suppress inflammation, prolonged elevated cortisol levels increase inflammation in your body, making you more vulnerable to viruses or other illnesses.

The Long-Term Health Consequences of a Lack of Quality Sleep

In addition to increased inflammation, chronic lack of sleep can lead to several other adverse health outcomes. Studies have shown a relationship between a lack of sleep and higher chances of developing various diseases, including: 

A chronic lack of sleep may also increase your risk of developing some forms of cancer.

In addition to developing a higher risk of physical diseases, lack of sleep may trigger mental health concerns, especially if poor sleep patterns continue for a substantial period. The increase in stress hormones may even lead to depression or anxiety.

How To Improve Your Quality of Deep Sleep

Now that you understand the association between sleep and immune system functioning, you may consider focusing on establishing better sleep patterns. There are several things you can do to improve your sleep and get the most out of your bedtime routine.

  • Establish a healthy sleep routine - Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can make it easier to fall asleep. You can use Pillow to help with this.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime - Alcohol and stimulants disrupt sleep quality. Try to avoid both for at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly - Working out can reduce fatigue during the day, leading to better rest at night.
  • Eliminate distractions - Cell phones and television screens both emit blue light, which can disrupt melatonin production. This can affect deep sleep.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment - Keep your room at a comfortable temperature and remove any light sources that disrupt your sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques - Meditation and deep breathing exercises can be a soothing way to signal to your body that it's bedtime.

Prioritizing sleep and modifying your routine will strengthen your immune system, decrease inflammation and help you wake up rested and refreshed. If you continue to have a hard time falling or staying asleep after implementing these tips, consider visiting your doctor. Various effective treatments are available for insomnia and other issues affecting sleep quality.


Written by

Emily Mendez

Emily Mendez is a former therapist and mental health author. She is one of the leading voices in mental health. Emily's writing has appeared in eCounseling, SonderMind, and more. Emily is frequently interviewed by Healthline, Fatherly, INSIDER, Family Circle, and other national media for her advice and expert opinion on the latest mental health topics.

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