Sleep and the Immune System
By Angela Wilson
Certified child sleep consultant, MA Natural Sciences Cambridge University and co-founder of Baby Smiles Club
Sleep plays a vital role in our health – and that goes for your child just as much as it does for you. Sleeping well helps us to be physically and emotionally healthy, and research shows that sleeping poorly can result in a whole host of health issues.
One of the cornerstones of good health is our immune system. The immune system protects your body from outside ‘invaders’, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins, that can make you unwell. Your immune system is made up of a complex network of various organs, cells and proteins. And to function at its best, the immune system needs your body to sleep well!
What’s the role of sleep in the immune system?
When we sleep, we produce proteins called ‘cytokines’ which our body uses to fight infections, inflammation and stress. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t produce enough cytokines – which means your body isn’t able to fight off illness as well as it could do. The lack of sleep compromises your immune system, making it harder to recover.
Research has also shown that sleep strengthens the memory of your immune system. Sleep helps your body to remember how to recognise and react to ‘invaders’, and therefore to effectively fight them off.
And it’s not just the amount of sleep that’s important. Sleeping well doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep, but sleeping at the right times and having a well tuned body clock (known as the circadian rhythm).
Research published in 2020 showed that having a well tuned body clock can help our immune system. The researchers found that adaptive immune responses (where immune cells fight ‘invaders’) are regulated by the circadian clock. They concluded that “the circadian clock extensively regulates physiology, with an emerging role in immunity”.
What does this mean for your child?
Babies and young children are constantly fighting off new bacteria. Their explorative and inquisitive nature means they’re always touching things, putting things in their mouths, falling down onto the ground and getting dirty, and so on!
Children need good sleep to help fight off all these ‘invaders’ they’re being exposed to. Sleeping well will help a child develop and maintain a strong immune system. If a child isn’t sleeping well, they might find it harder to fight off a virus, and it could take them longer to recover from an illness.
How we can help
Our Baby Sleep Program shows you how to help your baby to sleep well. This includes explaining how to help your baby establish their body clock, and keep it in tune. Angela also provides individual sleep consultations for babies and children up to five years old.
Sleeping well will help your child to have a strong immune system and to be healthy. And if your children are sleeping well, then so are you! Which will also help your immune system.
Our Baby Sleep Program is founded on the most up-to-date science about how babies sleep, and is created with kindness and empathy. Helping a baby to sleep using our approach fosters and strengthens the parent-child bond.