Does Sleeping Well Boost Your Immune System?

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi holds an academic position at Northumbria University. After completing her Ph.D. at Northeastern University (Boston, MA), she joined the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School as a post-doctoral fellow to research how sleep and circadian rhythmicity influence our cognitive functioning.

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Last Updated On November 10th, 2023
Does Sleeping Well Boost Your Immune System?

Key Takeaways

  • Sleep Is Crucial for Overall Health: Quality sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, and research has shown that inadequate sleep can weaken the immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections and chronic diseases.
  • Immune System Complexity: The immune system is a complex network of cells and molecules that defend the body against infections. It includes various components such as white blood cells, antibodies, and cytokines, all of which play specific roles in protecting against diseases.
  • Impact of Sleep on Vaccination & Infections: Sleep can significantly affect the body’s response to vaccinations and infections. Adequate sleep improves vaccination effectiveness, while sleep deprivation can increase the risk of getting sick and lead to more severe symptoms when infected.

Sleep research, particularly the effects of sleep deprivation on immunity, has advanced tremendously in the last several decades, exposing the critical necessity of healthy sleep for nearly every body system in healthy humans. As research into the relationships between sleep quality and physical health has progressed, it has become apparent that sleep and the immune system are inextricably linked.

The immune system is essential for good health. It is necessary for wound healing, infection prevention, and protection against chronic and life-threatening disorders.

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Quality sleep and the immune system are mutually beneficial. An immune response, such as that triggered by infectious diseases, can affect sleep.

Proper sleep enhances the immune system, allowing for balanced and effective innate immunity. In contrast, not getting good sleep might disrupt the immune system. According to research, Verified Source World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source sleep deprivation might make you unwell in the short and long term.

The Immune System and Sleep

How often have you felt ill before going to bed only to be reassured by the words, “You’ll feel so much better after a good night’s sleep?”

Of course, this is not always the case, but there is plenty of truth in it. Better health comes from getting good sleep. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic rekindled the discussion about the relevance of proper sleep health and immune function.

Are people with good sleep more immune to illness? Can poor sleep affect your immune system? Both questions are answered emphatically in the affirmative.

Insomnia and its Effects

Insomnia is a condition that causes a person to struggle with falling asleep fast. A person who has insomnia may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping at night.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Waking up too early in the morning.
  • Not feeling rested after a good night’s sleep.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Anger, despair, or anxiety.
  • Difficulty paying attention, concentrating or remembering things.
  • Increased errors or accidents.
  • Chronic fatigue.

Chronic sleep deprivation may raise the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Healthy sleep is also essential for a normal immunological response; inadequate sleep can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infection and impairing your capacity to fight the sickness you are fighting.

How Does the Immune System Function?

The immune system is a complicated network that runs throughout the body and offers numerous lines of immunity protection against disease. These defenses are classified into two types of immune responses: innate immunity and adaptive immunity.

Innate immunity is a wide sort of defense with several levels of resistance. Adaptive immunity, also known as acquired immunity or immunological memory, refers to defenses you develop through time and specifically target threats.

Knowing Your Immune System

The immune system is complicated due to several components. Leukocytes, or white blood cells Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source , are essential to our immune response. The goal of the leukocyte is to recognize, attack, and eliminate invading infections from our bodies. Our immune function responds to infections in both an immediate (innate immunity) and learned (adaptive immunity) manner, allowing us to interact with our environment safely every day.

When a white blood cell identifies a foreign infection, it produces cytokines, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source which signal other white blood cells to fight. Cytokines are proteins that serve as immune response messengers. Other molecules, such as histamine, have a role in immune responses such as swelling and redness.

Immune Response Balance

When working properly, the immune system maintains a careful equilibrium. In reaction to a threat or harm, the immune response produces symptoms such as redness, inflammation Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source (swelling), weariness, fever, or discomfort.

The immune system must be robust enough to detect and combat possible dangers. Still, it must also be well-regulated so that the body is not constantly on alert or in attack mode.

Attack Resistance

Your immune system is like an army guarding your body. It is a very sophisticated and intricate system that works to keep bacteria, viruses, parasites, and a variety of other diseases away.

Suppose one of these nefarious invaders manages to get past your defenses. In that case, your immune response goes into action to combat the invading germs inside your body. Once again, the two types of immunity are: inherent immunity and adaptive immunity.

Inherent Immunity

Consider the inherent system to be the initial line of defense. The invaders are arriving but haven’t been fully detected, so your body employs non-specific defenses to reject them.

It searches for and destroys anything that does not belong in your body. When a foreign organism is recognized, your immune responses send out signals that function as a warning that a pathogen is there. It is labeled with a tag to identify the intruder as a threat.

The invader is targeted and killed in numerous ways. Still, ultimately, the invading particle is broken down, any resulting waste material is eliminated, and your natural immune system continues to fight invading adversaries.

Adaptive Immunity

Your adaptive immunity system (or acquired immune system) is highly specialized. This body component can fully recognize an invading virus and then specifically target it for elimination.

When your body comes into contact with a novel pathogen, your adaptive immunity notes it. Records are kept on how to best deal with this newest intruder if it ever returns.

This is referred to as ‘immunological memory,’ which is why you do not acquire infections like measles repeatedly.

Vaccines and Sleep

Adequate sleep positively affects vaccinations, suggesting a good night’s sleep has advantages for adaptive immunity.

Vaccines stimulate the immune response by delivering a weakened or deactivated antigen into the body. Immunizations successfully educate the immune reactions to detect and fight that antigen in this manner.

Normal sleep is a significant component in determining vaccination effectiveness. Studies on Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source hepatitis and swine flu (H1N1) vaccinations have discovered that the body’s immune response is weakened when people do not sleep the night after taking a vaccine. This lowers the vaccine’s protection in certain situations and may necessitate a second dosage.

While those trials involved severe sleep deprivation following immunization, other research has revealed that individuals who regularly fail to obtain at least seven hours of deep sleep had lower vaccine effectiveness. People who do not get enough good sleep may not provide their bodies with enough time to acquire immunological memory, thus leaving them vulnerable despite being vaccinated.

Allergies and Sleep

Allergies develop when the immune system overreacts to something that does not damage most individuals, and there is mounting evidence that sleep and allergies are linked. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source

Allergies have also been linked to sleep deprivation. One study Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source demonstrated that sleep deprivation increased the likelihood of a peanut allergy attack in patients with peanut allergies, reducing the threshold of peanut exposure necessary to induce an allergy response by 45%.

Sleep Deprivation and Immunity

Circadian rhythms govern all animals’ sleeping and eating patterns, including humans. The term “circadian rhythm” is derived from the Latin words “circa,” which means “day,” and “Diem,” which means “around.” The circadian rhythm controls the sleep-wake cycle, a natural mechanism. Complex connections between the central nervous, endocrine, and immune systems govern the sleep-wake cycle and sleep deprivation.

“The relationship between sleep and immune function cannot be considered in isolation from circadian rhythmicity,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “This is because sleep itself is a circadian behavior and furthermore, circadian rhythms influence all aspects of physiology including immune function. As a consequence, booth, circadian and sleep disruption can lead to a state of inflammation and impaired immune response leaving us more vulnerable to disease.”

During deep sleep, your body produces cytokine as a cell response necessary for modulating an immune response. When you are assaulted by disease or under stress hormones release, your body requires more cytokines. Because cytokines rise during sleep, a lack of good sleep impairs the body’s capacity to fight infections. This is also why the body prefers to sleep more after an illness.

And persistent sleep deprivation may harm the immune system. In a study, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source Ackermann et al. evaluated white blood cell and regulatory t-cell counts in 15 people in normal and severe sleep-deprived settings.

For the first week of the trial, 15 individuals adhered to a rigid 8-hour sleep period. During the research, they were subjected to 15 minutes of sunshine within 12 hours of waking up. They were instructed to abstain from coffee, alcohol, and medicine for the past three days to regulate their circadian rhythm and determine sleep’s role in t cells and white blood cell counts.

Participants were challenged to 29 hours of continuous sleep deprivation in the second half of the trial. After the study, the white blood cell counts of the subjects were compared. It was discovered that granulocytes, a white blood cell, reacted to sleep deprivation in a typical pattern of the body’s stress hormones, particularly at night.

Sleep Impacts How Immune Cells Operate

Like an army, the cells that guard your body may be divided into numerous branches, each with specialization. While we won’t go into detail on every type of cell, protein, and molecule here, we have included some information on the important actors and those that have received the most attention in sleep research.

T Cells

T cells are a type of white blood cell that may be divided into T helper cells and cytotoxic T cells. T helper cells alert the body to the presence of an invader.

They do this by producing chemical signals that alert other immune cells to the fact that an attack is underway and that assistance is required.

Cytotoxic T cells play a far more direct function in infection resistance. They recognize pathogen-infected cells and attach straight to them, destroying them through various mechanisms.

When scientists examined T cells from volunteers who were given 8 hours of sleep per night to those who were not, they discovered that the T cells in the sleep deprivation group had a considerably decreased capacity to attach to a crucial molecule involved in the immunological response.

As previously stated, the primary goal of a T cell is to connect to both infected cells and other immune response cells. They can’t play their part in the immunological response if they can’t stick.

As a result, this study offers insight into how sleep deprivation might directly impact our immune response.

B Cells

B cells are white blood cells that patrol the body in search of infections.

On the surface of B cells are antibodies that may attach to infections and other substances. Consider the antibody to be a jigsaw puzzle component. One jigsaw puzzle component of a two-piece puzzle is on the surface of the B cell.

When B cells come into touch with a virus or bacterium that happens to have the other half of the jigsaw on its surface, the B cell adheres to it. This indicates that an intruder has been discovered and is being destroyed.

T helper cells can connect to B cells and release several copies of a particular antibody. The free antibody will then attach to any disease it recognizes and target it for destruction.

They can also develop into memory B cells, which remember a specific infection to respond correctly if they reencounter it.

The NK cells

Natural killer cells (NK cells) can destroy cells invaded and taken over by infections. They do this by secreting substances that instruct the diseased cell to shut down through a process known as programmed cell death.

Limiting sleep duration to four hours for one night reduced NK cell activity by 72% on average compared to levels following a full night’s sleep.

NK cells are vital in destroying tumor cells. Studies have revealed that decreased NK cell activity is related to a 1.6 times higher chance of dying from cancer.


This class of white blood cells includes neutrophils, macrophages, and dendritic cells, all potentially engulf (or ‘eat’) pathogens.

When infections enter these cells, phagocytes utilize various strategies to break them down and eliminate them. Each phagocyte kind has its location and superpower:

  • Neutrophils are abundant in circulation and are frequently the first cells to arrive at an infection site.
  • Macrophages are immune cells that may traverse blood arteries to attack infections in different body regions.
  • Dendritic cells are located in tissues and are essential in connecting innate and acquired immune responses, allowing them to communicate with one another.

All of the cells described above have various tasks in addition to those stated above, and there is a great deal of cross-talk and cooperation among them.


Your immune cells (and many others) release little proteins called cytokines, which play an essential role in the immunological response. Cytokines function as little messengers, bringing immune cells to the site of the invasion, amplifying signals that an attack is occurring, and allowing the various cells of the immune response to basically “communicate” with one another.

They are essential to your immune response, and several families and subgroups of cytokines play a variety of tasks in your body.

Is Sleep Deprivation Harmful?

Sleep deprivation has a wide range of health consequences, and growing research suggests Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  that it might affect the immune response and make it easier to get sick.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to both short-term illnesses and the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiac problems. Researchers are increasingly convinced that this is because sleep deprivation interferes with the immune system’s natural functioning.

In the short term, persons who sleep fewer than six or seven hours each night have an increased risk of infection. Inadequate sleep Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  has been linked to an increased risk of catching a common cold or the flu. Furthermore, persons in intensive care units (ICUs) with urgent recovery demands may be impeded by a lack of good sleep.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to various long-term health concerns, which are thought to be related to the harmful effects of sleep deprivation on the immune system. In persons who get enough sleep, inflammation returns to normal levels before they wake up. This generally self-regulating system, however, malfunctions in those who don’t get enough sleep, and inflammation continues.

This low systemic inflammation has a cost, increasing the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pain, and neurological illnesses. Persistent inflammation has been linked to depression, which may explain the high prevalence of this condition among persons who have difficulty sleeping. Inflammation has also been related to cancer, which animal studies show may be exacerbated by a lack of sleep.

Unfortunately, while some people can get by on little sleep, studies show that the immune system does not learn how to “get used” to not getting enough sleep. Instead, this low-grade inflammation can become chronic, exacerbating long-term health problems.

Sleep Helps Fight Infection

Several studies have found that inadequate sleep increases the likelihood of infection after exposure to the cold virus.

For example, according to recent research from the University of California, San Francisco, those who slept fewer than six hours every night for a week were more than 4.2 times more likely to acquire a cold. It should be mentioned, however, that the researchers purposefully attempted to infect the volunteers by directly providing nasal drops carrying the cold virus.

When you are sick, your sleep habits may be disrupted, and you may experience more extended and deeper sleep periods. Why is this the case?

During the active phase of the immunological response, your body may attempt to prolong N3, slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) while decreasing waking and REM sleep. These sleep health modifications may allow your body to allocate more resources to battling an illness.

Infections can cause sleep deprivation. Here are some examples of how:


Viral infections disrupt good sleep, increase tiredness, and produce fevers. Participants in a study Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  of persons infected with a common cold virus had less quality sleep time.

Sleep efficiency was reduced by 5% for these participants during the virus’s active time compared to its incubation period.


Bacterial illnesses can sometimes cause sleep problems. Human Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is linked to persistent tiredness and sleep difficulties.

Lyme disease patients reported the following symptoms:

  • Having problems falling asleep
  • A lot of nighttime awakenings
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness

They also encountered problems with:

  • Longer time to fall asleep
  • Reduced sleep duration
  • More brief wakings during the night
  • Sleep deprivation

Sleep disturbances can also arise as a result of bacterial infections of the respiratory system.

People with the bacterial illness listeriosis had higher overall sleep quantities, with more daytime sleep, less nighttime sleep, longer durations of observed awakenings during the night, and overall disrupted sleep patterns.

Some sleep disorders, including narcolepsy, have been linked to bacterial infections.

This is based on the discovery that many persons with narcolepsy have antibodies to Streptococcus and Helicobacter pylori, both of which are linked to autoimmune disorders. These antibodies may cause narcolepsy through autoimmune causes. Verified Source Oxford Academic Research journal published by Oxford University. View source


Parasitic illnesses, including malaria, filariasis, and trypanosomiasis, alter sleep patterns by influencing the immunological response.

A study examining Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source the relationships between sleep duration and parasite infection levels in 12 mammalian species discovered that longer sleep duration was associated with lower parasitic infection levels.

This discovery prompted the researchers to hypothesize that quality sleep health developed in part to protect animals against parasite illnesses.

Work & Lifestyle Decisions Impact on Immunity

As repairs and maintenance are completed during the night, the body clock signals inflammation levels to fall, and the body prepares to begin another day. When someone stays up late or works a night shift, their biological clock naturally prefers to do these duties throughout the night when awake.

So, when the person is working, socializing, or binge-watching Netflix, the body clock transmits signals that operate best while the person is sleeping.

When a person goes to sleep at a time that is not consistent with their normal body rhythm, the body clock becomes even more confused because sleep is a time for restoration.

Inflammatory molecules previously elevated throughout the night remain elevated in the body as the individual sleeps. Compared to people who sleep at times that correspond to their normal body clock, the total outcome of regularly inadequate sleep or night-shift employment is consistently elevated levels of inflammation.

See also our guides to the specific sleep hazards of certain jobs:

Immunization and Vaccination

Poor sleep also has an impact on the immunological response to vaccination. According to one study, somewhat sleep-deprived, healthy people who were immunized against influenza generated antibody concentrations half those of their well-rested colleagues.

Researchers also discovered that those who sleep less than six hours each night are considerably less likely to produce an antibody response to the hepatitis B vaccination.

They were roughly 12 times more likely than persons who slept more than seven hours to be unprotected by the immunization.

How Can You Improve Your Sleep?

Given the importance of sleep for immune function, making a sufficient amount of undisturbed sleep every night a priority can help to boost your immune system.

Improving your sleep frequently begins with examining your habits, routines, and sleeping environment, down to having the best mattress for your needs.

This is known as sleep hygiene. Even simple efforts like keeping a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding using cell phones and tablets in bed will help you get a good night’s sleep.

People who have persistent or severe sleeping problems, as well as concerns with recurring diseases, should consult a doctor. A doctor can help you determine the underlying problem and the best treatment.

People suffering from sleep problems such as insomnia may benefit from treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This method improves good sleep and reduces indications of inflammation21 by reducing negative thoughts about sleep.

Relaxation practices can also improve sleep and immune system function, including increasing vaccination response and lowering signs of systemic inflammation.

When you’re sick, create a comfortable and conducive sleep environment. Elevate your head with extra pillows to ease congestion, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air, and employ a warm compress for relief. Stay hydrated by drinking soothing fluids, like warm tea or broth, and consider using saline nasal drops to clear nasal passages to sleep well during flu season.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is sleep health so important?

Sleep health is important to overall health, affecting a person’s physical health and mental health. Sleep is linked to mood and energy, along with cognitive performance, affecting how well you perform tasks and how much you enjoy yourself during the day. So getting a good night’s sleep is important for making the most of your days. You simply will struggle to accomplish as much on a night of poor sleep compared to what you can do fully rested.

How can I improve my sleep habits?

One of the best ways to improve your sleep habits is with a fixed sleep schedule. The ideal is to have a regular bedtime that let you get a full night’s sleep and wake up at the same time every day. You can use a bedtime calculator to determine what the best bedtime for your schedule is.

Aside from having a strict bedtime, it’s also good to minimize screen use in the evening and focus on relaxing activities before bed.

How much sleep is enough?

For the average adult, 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night is what is needed to function at their best and brightest. A small percentage of adults may need more rest, and they are known as ‘long sleepers.’ However, for most adults, sleeping more than 9 hours when healthy qualifies as oversleeping.

How can I make my immune system stronger?

A strong immune system is characterized not just by rarely getting sick. It also means having plenty of energy, maintaining a healthy weight and clear skin, minimal allergies, and regular bowel movements. To make your immune system stronger, you can eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, get vaccinated, and manage stress.

Keep in mind that these lifestyle factors can support a healthy immune system, but there is no guaranteed way to boost immunity. It’s also important to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your lifestyle or taking supplements or vitamins.


In summary:

  • Sleep and the immune system are inextricably linked.
  • Sleeping well strengthens your immune system.
  • The immune system is your body’s first line of defense against sickness.
  • Infections – and the battle against them — disrupt your sleep.
  • Getting enough sleep is essential for healthy sleep.
  • Sleep can boost your immune system.

Quality sleep and immunity have a profound and linked relationship. Prioritizing sleep and ensuring that your sleep is as excellent as it can indirectly benefit your health and immune system.

About the author

Eric Ridenour is a health and wellness writer with a strong focus on sleep and nutrition. With a background in health science and psychology, Eric has a deep understanding of the connection between sleep and overall well-being. His expertise has been sought by various businesses and individuals, and his work has been featured in reputable publications such as Thrive Global, Drug Report, and Authority Magazine. Eric's commitment to promoting better sleep and comprehensive wellness is evident in his writing and consultations. He is a published author working on his second book.

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