By Himani Dalmia and Neha Bhatt
The Link between Sleep and Immunity
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the link between sleep and immunity has only been strengthened, with health experts extolling the virtues of clocking in enough sleep to keep your body in top shape.
What exactly is the connection between immunity and sleep? Studies have repeatedly proved that loss of sleep impairs our immune function. This is because when we sleep, our body is busy recovering, repairing and processing the stress and information absorbed through the day. Sleep charges us up to full strength for the next day.
With immature immune systems, young children often fall ill with bouts of fever, cough and cold, especially once they enter school life or come in frequent contact with other children who may be carriers of infection. But age-appropriate sleep can act as a major deterrent to frequent illness. The first few years of life are crucial in developing a strong internal system and robust gut health, and restful sleep is the key. Important hormones are released for growth and development during the time that children are asleep.
The Cytokines Connection
A report by the US-based Sleep Foundation states:
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond.
Lack of sleep also deprives kids (and adults) of natural killer cells and proper immune response, weakening the system. Research has shown that children who do not get adequate naps or who sleep less at night are more susceptible to picking up infections than those who get enough sleep and are well-rested.
As the sun sets, our bodies are biologically designed to wind down, which is why it’s important to have an early bedtime for children-to allow the body to follow its natural circadian rhythm. When children are not put to bed at the appropriate hour, their body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, putting the immune function in peril.
For a healthy immune system, you need a fair supply of microbiome, the good bacteria in our bodies, which is directly linked to our circadian rhythms. Put simply, if babies don’t sleep enough, their gut bacteria will not be able to digest nutrients from what they eat. In a vicious cycle, poor gut health impacts sleep negatively and leads to sleep loss.
When babies sleep, they heal and grow. Sleep provides the essential backbone to a well-developed immunity for life.
We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. If it wasn’t serving a vital purpose, it would be a major goof-up on the part of evolution! In short, help your children power up on sleep and watch them soar.
(Extracted with permission from Penguin Random House India)