How Sleep Affects Your Body on a Molecular Level

We all know how a lack of a good night’s sleep can affect us on a macro level. You wake up groggy, irritable, and not wanting to leave the comforts of your best mattress. Not only that, we know that those lost sleep hours accrue over the long haul into something scientists refer to as “sleep debt” which can have long-term consequences including weight gain and poor decision making. It’s only recently though that scientists have found out how much sleep has to do with your body’s response to its environment on a molecular level. Here’s a hint: it’s a lot.

A recent study of sleepers in Australia focused on just this problem. They researched the body’s response to the circadian rhythm — a biological phenomenon that exists in all living things, from humans all the way down to bacteria. Until recently, most of the ideas around the circadian rhythm remained shrouded in mystery. We knew that all living things required rest, but how did the disruption of those processes affect our response to infectious disease? The results weren’t surprising: more time sleeping on the best mattress meant a better functioning immune system, less sicknesses, and a faster recovery time when dealing with illness.

Circadian Rhythms and Sleep Regulators

It has to do with the basic principles of the circadian rhythm, which basically splits our time between resting and activity. During daylight hours, our cells are active but at night that activity is cut back dramatically. This allows cells a chance to repair themselves and allows the immune system a chance to refresh and cleanse itself — all while the body sleeps peacefully in bed on the best mattress.

Our circadian rhythm and its relation to our immune system has to do with a tiny section of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN for short. The SCN is small, only two millimeters in length, but a 2015 study shows that it’s the primary regulator of our circadian rhythm. The SCN turned out to be vitally important to all kinds of processes: Body temperature, blood pressure, feelings of hunger, and feelings of wakefulness and tiredness.

SCR and the Immune System

The Australian researchers took this one step further, studying changes in our circadian rhythms and their effects on the immune system. They found that even a slight change in our regular circadian rhythm can lead to the development of low-level inflammation, which can greatly compromise our immunity to everyday bacteria. This causes more sickness, and greater recovery times.

When we sleep more, and more regularly, our SCN functions at peak capacity. With this in mind, doctors can give a more holistic view of illness to their patients. We now know that it’s so important to rest, not only when you’re feeling ill, but in times of health too. Bowing to the circadian rhythms of your SCR allows your body to rest and recharge in the way that it needs, so you can fight off disease and have the best health possible. So grab a cup of tea, and hop on your best mattress for a better life — both when you’re asleep, but more importantly when you’re awake too. Your body will thank you.