The stress-sleep-immune connection

Published: 8-Jul-2024

In the pursuit of optimal health, particularly in the context of everyday stress relief, the role of natural supplements has become increasingly prominent

Among these, black seed oil products such as ThymoQuin have garnered much attention for their multifaceted health benefits.

In this article, we’ll delve into the intricate interplay between stress, sleep and immune function, highlighting the role of dietary supplementation in terms of enhancing overall well-being.

The stress-sleep connection 

The relationship between stress and sleep is a critical — and often underappreciated — determinant of overall health. It is almost impossible to overstate the effect that sleep can have on your energy, metabolic health and, yes, your weight!

Chronic stress, often manifested through poor sleep quality, triggers a cascade of hormonal responses … with cortisol being the primary hormone involved.

Cortisol is essential for survival; it’s a critically important hormone without which you’d die. But the last thing you want is for your cortisol dial to be permanently set on “high.”

However, and unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation in which many of us find ourselves on a daily basis.

Cortisol’s prolonged elevation has damaging and profound effects on human health. Constantly elevated levels of cortisol break down muscle, shrink the hippocampus (a portion of the brain involved with memory and thinking) and — this one gets everyone’s attention — increased abdominal fat. 

Cortisol literally sends signals to the body to store fat (for the emergency it thinks you’re in). Furthermore, it specifically tells the body to store it around the middle.

This not only affects physical appearance but also contributes to a range of metabolic disorders, including insulin resistance, hypertension and dyslipidaemia. And keep in mind that research shows that only 12.2% of Americans have a truly healthy metabolism.1

The impact of stress on immune function

Chronic stress impairs the body’s immune response and, as most of us live under an awful lot of stress, we wind up with weakened immune systems. A great example of this is what frequently happens to runners the week after a marathon.

Marathons may be a great endurance exercise, but they’re hard on the body and produce a ton of stress. That’s why long-distance runners frequently get sick the week after the event — a condition commonly referred to as marathon flu.

Supplements such as black seed oil modulate stress responses and support mood. This has been linked to enhanced immune function, improved mood states and lower cortisol levels.2

The role of natural supplements in immune modulation

Think of your immune system as an army of cells with specific duties, all meant to work together to defend the body against any “attacks.” If you’re the general of that army, what do you want for your troops?

You want them to be well-rested and well-nourished so that they can perform at their best. Dietary supplements such as ThymoQuin play a significant role when it comes to nourishing that army, modulating the immune response and enhancing the body's ability to fight off pathogens.

Enhancing immune response: Black seed oil has been shown to enhance the immune response by improving the activity of various immune cells. This is particularly important for athletes and individuals under additional physical or mental stress, as their immune systems are often compromised (Figure 1).2

Supporting healthy inflammation: Chronic inflammation can weaken the immune system. The anti-inflammatory properties of black seed oil help to support a healthy systemic inflammatory response, thereby supporting a more robust immune response.3

Boosting digestive health: The gut is a major site of immune activity. A dysfunctional microbiome has been shown to be associated with conditions as wide-ranging as schizophrenia, weight gain and depression, and is terrible for the immune system.

Black seed oil has been shown to positively influence gut health, which, in turn, supports the immune system.

If there’s anything we’ve discovered in the last couple of decades, it’s that a healthy gut has systemic positive effects on every system in the body and that it’s essential for an effective immune response. That’s why many functional medicine doctors frequently say: “First, treat the gut.”

The stress-sleep-immune connection

Figure 1: Subjects in the ThymoQuin group had significantly fewer self-reported upper respiratory tract complaints (URTCs) compared with a placebo (* = significantly different from post-supplementation placebo value [p<0.05])2

The psychological aspect: stress, mood and well-being

Mental health is deeply intertwined with physical health. In fact, they are inseparable. The ability of natural supplements to support mental well-being is an area of growing interest.

Stress reduction: Chronic stress has detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Black seed oil has been shown to reduce stress levels, partly because of its effect on cortisol regulation (Figure 2).2 

Mood enhancement: The mood-enhancing properties of black seed oil are particularly beneficial for athletes and individuals under constant stress. By improving mood, these supplements can contribute to better mental health and overall well-being (Figure 3).2,4 

Cognitive function: There is emerging evidence that black seed oil may have a positive impact on cognitive functions, including memory and attention.

This is particularly important in the context of stress and ageing as chronic stress impairs the function of the hippocampus, a part of the brain connected to memory and thinking.5

The stress-sleep-immune connection

Figure 2: Subjects in the ThymoQuin group had significantly lower salivary cortisol levels (ng/mL) compared with a placebo (* = significantly different from post-supplementation placebo value [p<0.05])2

The stress-sleep-immune connection

Figure 3: Subjects in the ThymoQuin group had a significantly better Global Mood State compared with a placebo: a lower score indicates a higher well-being index (* = significantly different from post-supplementation placebo value [p<0.05])2

Historical use and traditional medicine

Black seed oil has been used for centuries in traditional medicine systems (such as Ayurvedic) for its therapeutic properties. It has been cited in ancient texts as the “blessing seed” and found in archaeological sites, indicating its long-standing significance in health and wellness.

Contemporary studies corroborate the traditional uses of black seed oil, highlighting its ability to support stress relief as well as metabolic, immune and oral health.2,6–8 It has also been shown to be a potent topical and ingestible ingredient for improved skin and scalp health.9–11

It's important to know that not all black seed oils are created equally. They vary not only in the amount of thymoquinone (the active ingredient) they contain, but also in the amount of free fatty acids.

As free fatty acids can interfere with or even eliminate the effectiveness of the thymoquinone, it’s critical that these two compounds are in the right proportion.

ThymoQuin has the perfect balance of thymoquinone and free fatty acids and it is currently the only black seed oil to meet the USP monograph.

Lifestyle factors and supplement integration

Incorporating dietary supplements such as ThymoQuin into a broader lifestyle strategy can be highly beneficial. Factors including diet, exercise and sleep hygiene play integral roles in overall health.

A balanced diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and high-quality protein, combined with regular physical activity, good quality sleep and a sense of community and connection, is the foundation of good health.

ThymoQuin is not a replacement for these lifestyle measures, but it offers an effective way to manage stress, improve sleep quality and support immune function. It acts as an adjunct, enhancing and supporting these lifestyle measures to significantly contribute to overall health and well-being.


  1. J. Araújo, et al., “Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016,” Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders 17(1), 46–52 (2019).
  2. S.M. Talbott, et al., “Effect of ThymoQuin Black Cumin Seed Oil as a Natural Immune Modulator of Upper-Respiratory Tract Complaints and Psychological Mood State,” Food Sci. Nutr. Res. 5(1), 1–6 (2022).
  3. K. Yuen, et al., “Beneficial Effect of 3% Thymoquinone on Stem Cell-Mediated Improvement in Immune System and Anti-Inflammatory Function,” Journal of Food & Nutritional Sciences 3(3), 63–74 (2021).
  4. S. Uzzan, et al., “Chronic Treatment with Nigella sativa Oil Exerts Antimanic Properties and Reduces Brain Inflammation in Rats,” Int. J. Mol. Sci. 25, 1823 (2024). 
  5. B.S. McEwen, et al., “Stress Effects on Neuronal Structure: Hippocampus, Amygdala and Prefrontal Cortex,” Neuropsychopharmacology 41(1), 3–23 (2015). 
  6. S. Molla, et al., “A Review on Antiviral Effects of Nigella sativa L.,” Pharmacology Online Newsletter 2, 47–53 (2019). 
  7. N. Namazi, et al., “The Effects of Nigella sativa L. on Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” J. Ethnopharmacol. 219, 173–181 (2018).
  8. M. Licari, et al., “Beneficial Effects of Thymoquinone on Metabolic Function and Fatty Liver in a Murine Model of Obesity,” J. Nutr. Food Sci. 9, 751 (2019).

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