Sleep, Your Immune System, and Nutrition

Sleep, Your Immune System, and Nutrition Image

Did you know that poor sleeping patterns increases the risk of several chronic health conditions? According to sleep experts and other doctors, sleep apnea can increase daytime sleepiness, cognitive dysfunction, poor work performance, high blood pressure, abnormalities in glucose metabolism, anxiety, impotence, fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events, and even one’s overall risk of death (1,2,3).


In recent years, more studies have shown a connection between insufficient sleep and Alzheimer’s (5,6). According to the study in JAMA Neurology, participants who experienced shorter periods of sleep and difficulty falling asleep showed an increase in the plaques associated with the disease (6).


For that reason, evidence reveals sleep to be very important for your overall health. Therefore, it is encouraged that you evaluate your sleeping patterns. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults 18-64 years old get seven to nine hours a night (4). When you do not get the rest your body needs, your immune system is compromised.


Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you short yourself precious rest. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond. (7)


According to a study, plant-based diets may provide additional benefits to health via their potential effects on sleep quality. Plant foods have an increase amount of nutrients to assist in sleep quality. For example, plant proteins are rich in isoflavones, a phytochemical known to reduce the risk of heart disease and several cancers. Isoflavones successfully improved the sleep quality among a Chinese population in a 5-year study. The authors of the study suggest that the estrogenic effect of isoflavones may be responsible for longer sleep duration. (8)


Plant-based proteins are also relatively high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is a precursor to melatonin and serotonin. These hormones are two neurotransmitters involved in sleep regulations. Plant based sources of tryptophan include leafy greens, sunflower seeds, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, and peas. (9).


Along with evaluating your sleep patterns, I encourage you evaluate the amount of plant-based foods you are consuming. A high percentage of Americans do not get the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Adding more of these foods to your diet will improve your sleep and overall health.



  1. Punjabi NM. The Epidemiology of Adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society. 2008;5(2):136-143.
  2. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 3, Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders. Available from:
  3. Chen C-M, Tsai M-J, Wei P-J, et al. Erectile Dysfunction in Patients with Sleep Apnea – A Nationwide Population-Based Study. Taniyama Y, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(7):e0132510.
  6. Spira AD, Gamaldo AA, An Y, et al. Self-reported sleep and β-amyloid deposition in community-dwelling older adults. JAMA Neurol. Published online October 21, 2013.