According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to become ill after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold, or the flu.1 Studies show that sleep loss can impact various parts of the immune system, which can increase the risk of not just viral infections, but also cancer, and cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.2 While the germs and viruses that cause illnesses and infections such as the common cold and flu are constantly around us, instilling healthy sleep habits can actually protect us from getting sick. Find out how sleep can be your most powerful weapon during cold and flu season and how to develop a good sleep routine as early as tonight.
Can Sleep Help Prevent the Flu?
In a 2015 study led by a UC San Francisco sleep researcher Aric Prather and renowned Carnegie Mellon psychologist Sheldon Cohen, researchers proved how effective sleep is in keeping our immune system strong and, ultimately, protecting us from catching the common cold and/or flu.3 The study monitored the sleep of 164 healthy males and females, aged 18-55, who were sprayed with a live virus, then isolated to see if they would respond by getting sick.
The results were pretty noteworthy: short sleepers who slept six hours or less were four times more likely to catch the virus than those who spent seven hours a night sleeping. According to the study, individuals who sleep less than the recommended seven hours (according to The National Sleep Foundation) have higher levels of inflammation which can make them more susceptible to illnesses/infections.4
While sleep continues to rank as one of the best protective barriers for staying healthy, other factors such as stress, lack of exercise, age, dietary choices, and even smoking may have the potential to compromise your immune system and make you more vulnerable to getting sick.
Why Good Sleep Habits Help with Flu Prevention
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises that adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep each night to be well rested, alert, attentive, and keep the immune system functioning at an optimal level. It also plays a vital role in both our short and long term health. When we get less than the recommended amount, our immune system becomes weakened, increasing one’s chance of contracting the flu, or even developing depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.5
A test performed on lab mice (who were infected with the influenza virus) at Washington State University showed sleep being associated with a brain protein called AcPb which supports and sustains the medicinal power of sleep. While these findings could lead to future treatments for the flu, it was another indicator of the critical role sleep is to the immune system in being able to respond, and ward off, infections.6
Sleep & The Immune System
The responsibility of the immune system is pretty simple — to protect against, ward off, and limit illness and infection. Think of the immune system as having many different lines of communication that can distinguish whether or not there is a possible threat and what needs to be done to help fix the situation.
You have two types of immunity:
Innate: You are born with this immunity and it protects you from any toxic or foreign substance that enters the body. Examples of these barriers include your skin, mucus, enzymes, and even cough reflex.
Passive: This is immunity you develop over time from exposure to specific foreign substances.
One of the main components of your immune system are your white blood cells, also known as leukocytes. Their main role is to pinpoint, attack, and get rid of the antigen(s). When an antigen is detected, your white blood cells send a protein — similar to that of a messenger — from your immune system. These are also known as cytokines. When a threat does occur, and your immune system is working at an optimal, balanced level, the appropriate responses such as swelling, fatigue, pain, redness, etc. will be released to “fix” the situation.
So, how does sleep play into this and affect the immune system? Getting the recommended amount of sleep will help to keep the immune system balanced with a robust amount of innate and adaptive immunity. When we sleep, an increase of cytokines (correlated to inflammation) increases, regardless if we are hurt or not, and ultimately helps to strengthen our adaptive immunity. In addition, our immune memory increases when we sleep, which boosts its ability to recognize and recall how to acknowledge a foreign substance.7
How To Get Into a Better Sleep Routine
In order for your body to reset, repair, and recharge, the key is to make sure you are getting a deep sleep every night. Making sleep a priority should be at the top of your list and, if you are someone who struggles with getting the recommended amount each night, here are some suggestions to help you get into a better sleep routine and start sleeping better:
- Stay consistent with the time you go to bed each night, even on the weekends
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom and power down about an hour before you go to bed
- Create a cool, dark sleeping environment, which may mean using dark shades, noise machines, and adjusting the thermostat
- Read a book, meditate, or practice some relaxing/restorative yoga poses, especially if you have a busy mind
- Watch your caffeine intake (ideally try to cut out by 12:00 pm), and make sure to hydrate throughout your day
- Limit daytime naps
- Cut down on alcohol and sugar intake
- Add tryptophan-rich foods to your diet, like chicken, fish, leafy greens, and soy
- Exercise regularly, but nothing too rigorous before bed
- If you often worry about work in bed, write a to-do list and remind yourself you can get to your tasks tomorrow
- Know when it’s time to call the doctor to resolve persistent sleep issues
We also know how challenging it can be to get to sleep while already battling a cold or flu. Follow these tips to get quality sleep while sick, such as sleeping with your head elevated, using a humidifier, taking a hot shower or bath before bed, and staying hydrated.
While sleep is an essential component of keeping your immune system healthy, if you do find yourself coming down with symptoms of the flu, consider trying Brillia Health’s Cold-Flu Recovery — a gentle effective, and clinically proven way to shorten the duration and severity of your flu symptoms by using targeted antibody ingredients to fight the infection at its source, all while increasing the body’s natural immune response. One of the key ingredients in the Cold-Flu Recovery product is an antibody called lapine interferon gamma immune globulin, which strengthens immune cells and recruits even more to ward off illness. Unlike common OTC medications, Brillia Health products are free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and will not cause harmful side effects. The Cold-Flu Recovery product is so gentle, it can even be taken by children as young as one. Learn more about how the Brillia Health products work.