01/16/2009 02:02 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

More Boost to Immunity

Cold and flu season is upon us, and the news last week which showed the impact of sleep on immunity was downright fascinating.

Pop quiz: does it matter whether you get an infection during the night versus during the day?

It appears so. Stanford researchers showed just how much stronger our immune system is at night by infecting flies with two strains of bacteria--but some of those flies were infected during the day. Those that got sick during the night were more likely to survive than those getting sick during the day.

Okay, so we're not fruit flies. But researchers routinely use flies to help make observations and conclusions that can be related to humans. I have no doubt that if we were to test this theory on humans, we'd find similar results. It's long been known that quality sleep boosts immunity (ahem, I wrote about this in my last post). I love another study emerging to confirm this fact. When most of our bodily functions are at rest, our immune systems can amplify.

The Stanford scientists also noticed that circadian rhythms come into play. Flies in the study that had abnormal sleep-wake patterns--even when infected with the bacteria during the night--had a hard time beating the infection. In humans it's the same: if your body clock is off, which can happen when you travel, work odd hours, or have difficulty sleeping to keep your internal clock and natural sleep patterns "on time," you run the risk of lowering your immunity.

I know plenty of people who've suffered from a common cold recently. Hey, it's a part of the winter experience. But it'd be nice to avoid as many as possible, and if we do pick one up, seeing it go away as soon as possible is...well, the goal. Unfortunately, we're not likely to become infected at night (unless our infectious bed partner sneezes on us). We pick up bugs during the day as we come into contact with others and their germs. Knowing we can do something as simple as get restful sleep to help fortify our immune system is pretty cool. No vitamins or Echinacea required. Just pure and simple sleep. 

Sweet Dreams,

The Sleep Doctor™

Michael Breus

This sleep article is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.