I'm having trouble sleeping lately. Does this increase my chances of getting sick?
Answers from Eric J. Olson, M.D.
Yes, lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.
So, your body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases. Long-term lack of sleep also increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
How much sleep do you need to bolster your immune system? The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. Teenagers need nine to 10 hours of sleep. School-aged children may need 10 or more hours of sleep.
But more sleep isn't always better. For adults, sleeping more than nine to 10 hours a night may result in a poor quality of sleep, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep.
June 09, 2015
See more Expert Answers
- Brain basics: Understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm. Accessed May 27, 2015.
- Your guide to healthy sleep. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/sleep/healthy-sleep. Accessed May 27, 2015.
- Cirelli C. Definition and consequences of sleep deprivation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 27, 2015.
- Cedernaes J, et al. Determinants of shortened, disrupted, and mistimed sleep and associated metabolic health consequences in healthy humans. Diabetes. 2015;64:1073.
- How sleep deprivation affects your heart. National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/how-sleep-deprivation-affects-your-heart. Accessed May 27, 2015.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 2, 2015.