Sleep And Immune System: Can a Lack of Sleep Make You Sick?

Is there a possibility that you are getting sick because you are not getting enough sleep? Join us as we explore how sleep and the immune system are related.

Sleep is an essential part of our daily routine. It contributes to our physical and mental well-being. The body cannot perform its basic functions if you do not get sleep. Sleep affects the body’s metabolism, cardiovascular health, and mental health.

We are going to inspect the processes that take place during sleep.

We will also check how sleep helps boost the immune response of the body to pathogens.

How Sleep Affects The Immune System

The body releases proteins like the T-cells and cytokines during sleep. We are going to explore how these proteins affect the body's immune response. We will also investigate the role of the sleep-wake cycle in improving immunity.

Circadian sleep-wake rhythm

Isn’t it interesting the body knows when to wake up and when to go to sleep? The body has an internal clock that controls the body every 24 hours.

Circadian sleep-wake rhythm

This cycle controls the mental, physical and behavioral changes. The synchronized motion of the body is called the Circadian rhythm. The cycle exists in all organisms. A good example is a flower opening and closing its petals at the right time.

However, we are going to focus on sleep. The circadian sleep-wake rhythm controls what time we sleep and what time we wake up. Whenever you are exposed to light, it sends signals to the brain to keep you alert. Darkness causes the body to release hormones known as melatonin. The melatonin makes you fall asleep.

The big question is, does the circadian rhythm affect the immune system? Yes. The circadian rhythm affects the body’s metabolism and weight. This is possible because it regulates the sugar and cholesterol in the body. It also influences our mental health.

Just like other processes, the circadian rhythm can be disrupted. The following causes can affect it:

  • Jet Lag

Jet lag

The circadian rhythm of an individual needs to adjust to the sleep-wake cycle of the new location.

You may be interested in the sleep cycle, click here to read more.

  • Shift Work

shift work sleep disorder

Working throughout the day and the night can affect the normal sleep-wake cycle.

  • Delayed Sleep Disorder

Delayed Sleep Disorder

Most people sleep late at night and wake up early in the morning. This behavior affects the circadian rhythm.

  • None 24-hour Sleep Disorder

None 24-hour Sleep Sisorder

This disorder affects blind people. They do not receive light, which makes it hard for the body to follow the normal sleep-wake cycle.

The research was carried out in Switzerland to investigate the effect of the circadian rhythm on the immune system. The results show how immune cells are synchronized with the circadian rhythm.

A disruption of this synchrony can lead to diseases such as allergies and heart attacks. Apart from that, it has a direct link to atherosclerotic plaques, infections, and toxins.

Therefore, you need to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. You can do this by following a consistent sleep routine, getting exposed to the sun, exercise, and avoiding stimulation from blue light and caffeine.



During sleep, the body secretes proteins called cytokines into the body. They are non-structural proteins that influence immunity and inflammation. They act during the initiation of pain by activating sensory nerves called nociceptors. These nociceptors alert us when the skin detects a high temperature, pressure, and injury.

  • Cytokines and Inflammatory Process

Asthma is a good example of an inflammatory disease involving inflammatory cells and cytokines.

The immune system has two primary functions. They include isolations and the destruction of pathogens. Cytokines are complex molecules produced by the immune cells. They are classified as pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Infected neighboring cells release pro-inflammatory cytokines. They stimulate the release of protective cytokines. The cytokines spread on the lymph and blood to protect the infected part.

  • Cytokines and Sleep

Pathogen-associated molecular patterns have proved to alter sleep through pro-inflammatory cytokines. Many other diseases involve inflammation including cancer, trauma, and asthma.

pro-inflammatory cytokines

Sleep disorders are associated with chronic fatigue, which results from systematic inflammation. It is still unknown if low levels of systematic inflammation can affect sleep.

The pro-inflammatory cytokines increase during periods of sleep deprivation. They reduce after sleep recovery.

The rhythm of the metabolic regulator also reduces during sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation affects the levels of growth hormones, plasma IL-6, melatonin, and cortisol. The plasma IL-6 is a marker associated with an inflammatory response. The level of cytokines relates to the sleep one gets.


T-cells are a type of white blood cells in the body critical in the body's immunity. Their work is to find the infected target and to attach itself to it using a sticky protein known as integrin.

sleep and T-Cells

A study conducted showed how more integrin they produce when sleep increases. The study confirmed the effect of sleep on the T-cells. They attributed this to the decrease of G-coupled receptor activation.

Sleep makes protective T-cells work effectively. Molecules can hinder these integrins from attaching to infected cells. These molecules decrease in levels during sleep. The molecules stimulate gas coupled receptors like adrenaline.

Formation of Immunological Memory

The immune system is set up in a way it remembers bacteria or viruses. This is possible because the body collects fragments of the pathogen and creates memory T cells. The T cells stores every bit of information about the pathogens. This allows the T cells to detect similar pathogens whenever they reoccur.

Formation of Immunological Memory

As discussed above, T-cells are produced during sleep. It produces them during the deep state phase of sleep. The deep state stage is associated with slow brain waves, slow blood flow to the muscles, and muscle relaxation.

Without enough sleep, the T-cells won’t be produced. This will result in some pathogens escaping from immune responses since the pathogens may mutate.

Sleep and Mental Health

Psychological memory helps us remember the details of our past. We can remember people, places, experiences, and tastes. Sleep helps us retain these memories. Deep sleep helps human beings translate short memories into long stable ones.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep problems can cause fatal psychological conditions. Sleep helps the brain to slow down. During the different stages of sleep, there is a fluctuation in brain activity. This increase and decrease in activity help support brain health.

Sleep can help in evaluating emotional information. Lack of sleep may cause one to be moody and may cause depression and suicidal thoughts.

We will explore mental health problems related to sleep


Depression related to sleep

Poor sleep can induce depression. Sleep may help improve ones’ moods and reduce fatigue, which may reduce the levels of depression.



This is a neurodevelopment disorder associated with impulsiveness and short attention spans. ADHD may make it hard to fall asleep, increase awakenings, and increase sleep during the daytime. Lack of sleep may result in a further loss of concentration.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders

As the name suggests, this disorder is associated with anxiety. Anxiety and worry are the biggest contributors to insomnia. It makes it hard to catch any sleep.

Bipolar Disorder

Sleep with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder involves fluctuation in moods. The people with this problem experience change in sleeping patterns depending on their moods. They may also experience insomnia.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder affecting communication and social interaction. Victims may experience insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing.

Mental health can affect sleep. On the flip side, sleep problems can lead to mental health problems. This is a complex connection implying the treatment of both problems can bring improvement.


It is important to know the impact of sleep on health. Sleep affects the immune system, mental health, and general wellbeing.

The effects of sleep on the immune system have been well-documented. Deciding to improve your sleep will help in improving your physical and mental health.

Mental health makes it hard to sleep. Sleep disorders can worsen mental health. Finding treatment for both problems could be an excellent solution.

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