Flu season! And now “Corona season”.
The whole world is going a bit nuts over this new virus. And I get it, it’s scary.
Apart from the typical hygiene recommendations and not getting in touch with infected persons or better avoiding big crowds at all, what else can you do to improve the odds of staying healthy?
Well, did sleep cross your mind? Yes, you heard me. Something as (apparently) passive as sleep can be your best bet.
Because sleep is a natural immune booster. A consistent good night’s sleep is a great way to improve your immunity and help your body to fight against bacterias, diseases and yes – viruses!
What do people instinctively do when they feel sick? They sleep!
When you have a cold, what do you do? Have a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup and have a good long nap or night sleep.
You see, sleep and health are pretty connected.
Obviously, if you sleep more than you need, this will not prevent you from getting sick. But on the contrary, if you sleep less than you need, this for sure will have a negative effect on your immune system and therefore makes you more vulnerable to catch a cold or worse.
Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
But why is that? Why is sleep so important for our immune system? First things first. Let talk quickly about the immune systems.
Our immune system
The immune system has three primary jobs:
- To identify pathogens, or disease-causing germs, and remove them from the body. These include viruses, parasites, bacteria or fungi.
- Spot and neutralize harmful substances that come from outside the body.
- Combat major changes within the body, like cancer cells
If toxins, bacteria, parasites, viruses or other foreign substances enter your body, your immune systems get activated and starts to produce antibodies or cells specifically developed to fight the intruder. Once these antibodies are produced, the immune system will keep a file and use it again if it ever runs into the same issue; this is why you typically only fight chickenpox once in your life.
Now back to the question, how sleep can boost your immune system.
When you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines.
They have two important jobs to do:
- Promoting cell-to-cell communication
- Directing cells to head towards infections and counteract the issue
Some cytokines can even help you to sleep better. Other cytokines have a protective effect on your immune system by helping it to fight inflammation, including inflammation due to infection. They like the first responders and help your immune system to understand what’s going on and to respond to the thread quickly. Without enough sleep, you may not have enough cytokines to keep you from getting sick.
T cells are white blood cells which are very important for the correct functioning of our immune system.
Sleep is boosting the production of these T cells. Their job is to attack and destroy viruses and other intruders.
A good night’s sleep ensures the correct production of T cells and helps them to be at the top of their game. Which means to be as quick, as responsive and as efficient at their job as they possibly could be.
And who wouldn’t want to have the best and biggest army of little T cells by their side while you in the middle of flu season and now even needing to avoid the coronavirus as well?
A recent study showed that if you are sleep deprived (even only short term) your T cell production is quite lower and they are not working as effectively and efficiently as they could have otherwise.
If you are sleep deprived, you have four times higher risk to catch a cold
A new study led by a UC San Francisco sleep researchers “found that people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus, compared to those who spend more than seven hours a night in slumberland.”
One of the researchers and lead author of the study , Aric Prather,PhD, said the following:
“Short sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects’ likelihood of catching a cold. It didn’t matter how old people were, their stress levels, their race, education or income. It didn’t matter if they were a smoker. With all those things taken into account, statistically sleep still carried the day.”
Poor sleep reduces the effectiveness of vaccines
And here is another study done by UCSF about how sleep loss reduces the effectiveness and therefore the protectiveness of vaccines.
In a nutshell, this is what the researcher found:
“The researchers found that people who slept fewer than six hours on average per night were far less likely to mount antibody responses to the vaccine and thus were far more likely (11.5 times) to be unprotected by the vaccine than people who slept more than seven hours on average.”
If you went through the trouble of getting your flu shot or any other vaccinations, then please, don’t skimp on sleep. If you do, then what’s the point of getting a vaccination in the first place, right?
So, your body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases.
How can you help your body out?
- Go to bed early
Give yourself the number of hours your body needs to sleep. Even 30 min or an hour less every night is a big deal. Because your body will store this lost sleep on a virtual sleep debt bank account. The more accumulated sleep debt the weaker your body and therefore your immune system will be.
- Have good sleep hygiene
Not only quantity is important but also quality. Avoid any stimulants or external factors that will cause bad quality sleep. E.g. don’t drink caffeine too late in the day, avoid alcohol too close to bedtime, don’t use devices which are emitting blue light at least one hour before your bedtime, etc.
Well, the above mentioned is pretty much common sense, isn’t it? But to be honest, are we always aware of hour habits and prioritize sleep?
- Give yourself a break – take a nap!
If you couldn’t get your required amount of sleep during the night. Try to help your body out by napping during the day. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each —one in the morning and one in the afternoon—has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system. If that is not possible, try to have at least one 20min power nap during your lunch break.
What else can you do to stay healthy?
- Wash your hands regularly with soap or use hand sanitizer
- Avoid close contact with obviously sick people
- Talk to your doctor if an annual flu shot may be a good option for you
- Stay at home or work from home when you are sick
- Sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue and throw it away immediately
- Disinfect objects you and others frequently use
- Stay hydrated, drink frequently water or even better hot herbal teas
- Strengthen your immune system (apart from sleeping). You might use some vitamins or other supplements to support your system. If possible go out to breath in some fresh air and get some sunlight.
I wish you all to stay safe and healthy – and have a good night’s sleep