This is how your immune system works

Let me first explain to you a little bit how the immune system works. It protects you against diseases caused by external threats, such as bacteria and viruses, as well as internal threats such as the growth of cancer cells. It is spread throughout the entire body. It consists of your skin, airways, intestines, blood and lymphatic system, and encompasses two 'subsystems'

    1. Your innate immune system

      This consists of your skin, the physical barrier we have against intruders. In war language we would refer to this as the defensive wall. The soldiers at the front line are your white blood cells. If something foreign enters, they produce 'cytokines'. Those are the messengers that will immediately warn all white blood cells in your body, so a coordinated attack can take place. 

    2. Your adaptive immune system

      Another type of soldier is put into play: the 'lymphocytes'. They will not only fight intruders, but gather information about the enemy and memorize this. That way, when a similar attack occurs, they are better prepared, and intruders are destroyed faster and more efficiently. As a result, you will hardly get sick: your are 'immune'.

      Vaccines use your adaptive immune system. When you are vaccinated, little pieces of the virus are introduced into the body. This triggers the adaptive response of your immune system and makes your body more prepared for the actual arrival of the real virus. 

    Method 1: sleep enough!

    It's not just mother's advice. It is scientifically proven: sleep strengthens your resistance and improves the efficacy of a vaccine. People who systematically sleep too little (<6 hours), are more susceptible for infections, and vaccines will not be that efficient compared to people who sleep enough. But even an acute sleep shortage will lower the efficacy of a flu vaccine. 

    On the one hand, this is because you produce more "cytokines" during sleep: the messengers that trigger your white blood cells to attack quickly. On the other hand, sleep improves the memory of your adaptive immune system. So if you get enough sleep, it will be better prepared for future attacks. 

    Your body will even signal this need for sleep: when your immune system is activated due to an infection or another disease, you often feel tired and sleepy. Your body is craving for sleep because your immune system needs it to work better. 

    Method 2: stabilize your internal clock

    Your internal clock also affects your immune system. It programs the functioning of your "macrophages": a certain type of white blood cells that are responsible for destroying bacteria in your body. You can describe them as "the waste-eating cells of your immune system." 

    The more stable your internal clock, the better it is able to program these cells, so that they do their job better. But how do you do that, stabilize your internal clock? Two golden rules: expose yourself to sunlight in the morning and during the day, and get up around the same time every morning. 

    Strengthen your immune system before your first injection!

    So remember that long-term sleep deprivation will make you sick more quickly, and even short-term sleep deprivation will make you less protected by a vaccine. Make sure you have a good night's sleep the 24-hour period before and after your vaccination.

    Having trouble sleeping? We can help you. Make an appointment for our online sleep improvement training.

    Good luck!

    Aisha Cortoos
    Clinical Psychologist - Psychotherapist - PhD in Psychology
    Sleep/stress expert