Syed Moin Hassan, M.D., sleep medicine fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital, shared how healthy sleep is associated with a strong immune system.

Lauren Wicks, Nutrition review by: Victoria Seaver, M.S., R.D.
March 24, 2020

Dr. Syed Moin Hassan is a sleep medicine fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who recently became a household name when one of his tweets went viral earlier this month.

"I don't know who needs to hear this, BUT YOU ARE NOT LAZY IF YOU ARE WAKING UP AT NOON. I have spent hours with patients with delayed circadian sleep phase trying to destigmatize sleeping late and waking up late." Hassan tweeted. Naturally, this started a passionate thread of Twitter users arguing for—and against—sleeping in.

Hassan followed up this viral tweet by saying how relieved one of his patients felt when he told him waking up late was okay. The patient had always been told it was a sign of laziness and it was a source of shame his whole life. Hassan explained there are people at extremes of circadian rhythms who may function better going to bed and waking up early—or going to bed and waking up late. If you fall into the latter camp, it doesn't necessarily make you any more lazy, it's just how your biology works. That means sleeping in could actually be healthy for some people—and even essential for a healthy immune system.

Related: 9 Foods to Help You Sleep

How Sleep Impacts Immunity

Hassan took to Twitter this week to answer questions regarding sleep health in partnership with Brigham and Women's Hospital. One Twitter user asked "Does good sleep help my immunity and will it help me fight off infections?".

"Studies have shown that poor #sleep can affect how your white blood cells move, multiply and fight infections," Hassan says. "It can also affect the proteins released by your #immunesystem to fight infections (cytokines&antibodies)."

Cytokines are a type of protein that targets inflammation and infection, which stimulates an immune response. They are produced and released during sleep, so missing out on regular shut-eye can do some serious damage to your immunity. According to The Sleep Foundation, if poor sleep becomes a habit, it can make the flu vaccine less effective because your body isn't able to properly respond. Antibodies are proteins produced by your immune system that detect and defend against harmful substances like bacteria, parasites and viruses.

Just to be clear—sleep isn't a cure-all strategy to prevent these things and especially shouldn't take the place of good hygine practices (like hand washing) to protect againt the coronavirus outbreak.

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Related: How to Actually Help Boost Your Immunity and Not Get Sick

How to Sleep Better and Boost Your Immunity

The National Sleep Foundation advises getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night—and getting in naps when you can't meet these recommended hours. The organization says sneaking in two 20-30 minute naps a day can help make up for lost sleep the night before, decreasing stress and offsetting the negative effects sleep deprivation has on the immune system. (Just be sure to do this before late afternoon, which Hassan says can have a negative effect on your ability to fall asleep later that night.)

Additionally, research has shown that stress and anxiety—both of which are already associated with reduced immunity—amplify poor sleep and conversely, poor sleep can increase stress and anxiety even more. This can be a double whammy for making you more susceptible to illness and infection.

Hassan shared helpful several tips for inducing sleep (and reducing anxiety related to the current coronavirus outbreak) in the Twitter thread. He advises shutting off any anxiety-provoking content at least an hour before going to bed and using that hour to do restful activities. If you typically like to process your thoughts or plan for the next day's activities before bed, Hassan advises doing that a few hours in advance so it doesn't induce any extra stress. You can find the rest of his advice for actually falling asleep when you want to (even in the midst of a pandemic) on Twitter.

Related: 4 Ways to Get a Better Night's Sleep, According to an Expert

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