sleep supports immune system

Immune Support # 5: Sleep. Sufficient, timely, quality sleep is absolutely critical if we want our immune system to support us. Read. That. Again. A plethora of studies have shown the importance of sleep for every single aspect of our health. And now researchers have found that a good night’s sleep can strengthen our immune system by improving its T cells function… and when sleep turns out to be critical too.

T cells to the rescue

T cells are a type of immune cell that fights the pathogens that enter our cells, for example, virus-infected cells such as flu, HIV, herpes, and even cancer cells.

How does it work? It’s all to do with the action of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline and pro-inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins. These substances are lower during sleep, promoting sticky adhesion molecules to enable the T cells to get into direct contact with virus-infected cells and then kill them.

To compound matters, as we saw in Immune Support #4: De-Stress & Rest … stress kills good sleep and poor sleep kills good health. However, despite numerous studies confirming the negative health impacts of poor sleep we STILL don’t prioritize getting enough sleep.

scree and sleep

People have to honestly reflect on the amount of sleep they’re getting because a lot of the problems are voluntarily induced, and they just need to decide to prioritize an adequate night’s sleep. Good sleep must be a priority because there’s so much going on in our worlds… unless you consciously decide you’re going to make enough time for sleep, it’s just not going to happen.

Eric Olson, MD -pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist, Mayo Clinic. Minnesota

The earlier the better

The wisdom that ‘every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight’ is proving true: New research confirms that sound sleep between 10 pm and 1 am has a tremendous impact on the production of growth hormone to support tissue repair and fuel our immune system against invading viruses.

sleep at different agesChildren and teenagers

The immune systems of children are particularly vulnerable from insufficient quality sleep, particularly in these worrying times. Life as we’ve known it is grinding to a halt and we may find that many of the lifestyle factors which already negatively impact on sleep and the immune health, will be exacerbated with ‘usual’ sleep routines becoming even more disrupted … especially for youngsters staying indoors and staying up even later on devices.

I highly recommend an excellent resource produced by Regis College – an infographic which offers a wealth of advice and information on improving sleep in children and teens.

As Professor Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley says:

No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation… it sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families. It needs to be prioritised, even incentivised.

Audit your sleep:

Good sleep should look something like this:

  • You sleep for 7-10 hours (depending on your age and other factors)
  • You do not wake in the night or if you do, you don’t remember and go straight back to sleep
  • You do not need the loo in the night
  • You sleep peacefully and don’t thrash around
  • You wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day!

Basic habits of good sleep:

  • Are you in bed by 10 pm and asleep by 11 pm? (before you go there, no, there are no such things as ‘night-owls’!)
  • Is your bedroom quiet, dark and cool? (think cave)
  • Do you have a bedtime ‘wind-down’ routine – switching off the TV, devices, bright lights and reading or listening to relaxing music for an hour or so before bed? (this is a major one!)

Less obvious habits for good sleep:

  • Do you go outside every morning for 10-15 mins to reset your circadian rhythm (internal light/dark body clock) for the day?
  • Are you eating energy foods (carbohydrates like fruits and root vegetables) throughout the day?
  • Are you taking moderate exercise, like walking during the day?
  • Do you say ‘no’ to alcohol, caffeine, nicotine after early evening?
  • Do you keep a journal or written to-do list to get things “out of your head”?
  • Are you eating the “wrong” things too close to bedtime? (crisps, chocolate, heavy meals)
  • Do you sleep with your mobile less than 3 feet from your head?


Our risk for contracting communicable diseases like the Covid-19 virus increases when our immune system is weak and a weakened immune system is largely the result of a less than optimal diet and an unsupportive lifestyle. Even as we are experiencing this current crisis, we are also seeing underlying epidemics of chronic diseases of every kind – diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, degenerative, digestive and autoimmune disorders across the globe. These conditions too, are largely diet and lifestyle-driven and they are preventable.

We need to act now

We have robust science to show us that what we eat has never been more important for our health and, because all life is inextricably connected, for our planet. The Real Food Solution will help you to discover the power of real food as medicine for better health.. for you and for our planet.

Crises like Covid-19 are a test our humanity… let’s stop queuing up for loo rolls and start creating a strong, resilient foundation of immune health… together.

Stay safe, stay informed and get empowered, Izabella

Order your copy today!

The Real Food Solution front cover

Izabella Natrins

I'm here to inspire and support women at midlife and beyond to re-ignite purpose and meaning to take back control of their health and create the radical, resilient heath they want and deserve. As a whole-health expert with over 30 years experience in the field, a qualified Health and Wellness Coach and Ballymaloe-trained nutritional chef, my real food nutrition and lifestyle medicine programmes support women fighting fatigue, struggling with overwhelm, weight gain, sleep, energy and niggling or multiple diagnosed health issues. As an advocate for real food nutrition, regenerative agriculture and whole-health, my book 'The Real Food Solution' is an evidence-based treasury wisdom for energy, vitality and better health for people and planet and a call to action to change the way we grown, source and cook our food. As the CEO at The UK Health Coaches Association, I'm proud to continue the task of leading the first professional association for Health and Wellness Coaches in the world and the gold standard for the UK and Ireland.

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