Why You Need More Sleep When You Have A Cold or Flu & How To Get It

 While you may feel like staying in bed all day, getting quality sleep is where the recovery happens. 
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If you find yourself wanting to sleep more than usual when battling a cold, flu, or fever, it’s best to trust your body. One of the best ways to build up your immune system so it can effectively fight off illness is to rest. However, wanting to sleep isn’t always enough; when you have a stuffy nose or a nagging cough, it can be difficult to fall or stay asleep. Explore the many stages of catching a cold or flu, how much sleep you actually need when fighting an infection, and tips for getting quality sleep when sick.

What Are the Stages of Colds & Flus? 

One way of distinguishing the flu from the common cold is the severity of symptoms. A flu will often begin more abruptly and present more intense symptoms, including a fever. However, some children do experience a low-grade fever with a cold. Here’s what to expect if you have the cold or flu:

Stages of the Common Cold 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the common cold typically starts with a sore throat, followed by a runny or stuffy nose, and a general feeling of being unwell.1 Dr. Doug Nunamaker, a family practice physician and chief medical officer for Atlas MD, tells Healthline that during this first stage, which lasts around one to three days, your cold is contagious if you present “active symptoms.”2 The second stage lasts around four to seven days and often presents with chills, a cough, congestion, and/or a low-grade fever. You may still be contagious at this point if you are having symptoms.  During the final third stage, which lasts around eight to ten days, you may still have a cough, congestion, runny nose, and fatigue, in which case you will still be considered contagious. Keep in mind that a cough may linger up to 18 days or longer after your cold goes away, in which case you may want to try some home remedies like inhaling steam or gargling salt water.  

Stages of the Flu

When it comes to the flu, the CDC explains that you are already contagious before symptoms appear within the first 24 hours after exposure and up to seven days after getting sick.3 This incubation period is the first stage. 
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During the second stage, which lasts one to three days, you may be suffering from a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and a headache. Symptoms are likely to feel much worse than the common cold.  Days four to seven, the final stage, you still won’t feel great, but your fever will likely have broken, your cough will be more productive, and you will feel less fatigued. You are still considered to be contagious, however, until you have been fever-free for 24 hours.

How Much Sleep Do You Need When Fighting an Infection? 

According to the Mayo Clinic, during sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help to promote sleep.4 Cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. When you are sleep deprived, your production of these protective cytokines may decline. Even more, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough rest. This is why it is imperative that you let your body rest when you are battling a cold or flu. While the optimal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours of good sleep each night, when you’re sick, immunologist Heather Moday, M.D. recommends adding at least another hour or so to your usual sleep schedule.5 If you’re sleeping nine to ten hours each night when you’re sick, you’re more likely to get better faster.

Tips for Getting Quality Sleep While Sick 

While you may feel like staying in bed all day, getting quality sleep is where the recovery happens. Falling and staying asleep can be difficult if you’re battling multiple symptoms, but there are steps you can take to ease into a deep sleep faster. Here are some tips:  
    • Sleep with your head propped up: Keeping your head elevated at night can prevent mucus from pooling in your sinuses. It can also relieve sinus pressure that makes it difficult to breathe and doze off.
    • Take cold & flu medications: Many people reach for cold and flu medications to relieve troublesome symptoms like a cough or congestion, but be wary of synthetic chemicals that can cause nausea, upset stomach, or an array of undesirable symptoms. Instead, opt for a non-prescription, homeopathic medication like Brillia Health Cough Control or Brillia Health Cold-Flu Recovery, which use targeted antibodies to relieve cold and flu symptoms without harsh, synthetic chemicals or off-target side effects. Two distinct formulations offer relief from such symptoms as congestion, runny nose, wet and dry coughs, sore throat, and body aches while supporting your immune system.
    • Take a hot shower or bath before bed: A hot shower or bath will produce a lot of steam, which can help clear nasal passages with moisture. It can also warm you up if you have chills and soothe body aches, making it more comfortable for you to fall asleep. 
  • Use a humidifier: If you’re having trouble breathing at night, a humidifier can help to loosen congestion, lubricate your nasal passages, and allow you to breathe a lot easier, which is conducive to better sleep.
    • Drink chamomile tea: Chamomile tea is a popular tea for those who are sick or struggling with sleep because it contains antioxidants that induce sleepiness.6 It can also help to soothe a sore throat.

    When to See a Doctor  

    Most people who have a cold or flu do not need to see a doctor because symptoms will generally clear up on their own, especially if you rest often and stay hydrated. However, sometimes a cold or flu will lead to complications that need to be addressed. You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following: 
    • Symptoms persist beyond two weeks
    • A persistent fever of 102 F or higher
    • Chest pain or shortness of breath
    • Earache or drainage from the ear
    • Vomiting
    • A cough that produces a lot of green or yellow mucus 
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    Lastly, you’re the best judge on whether or not you should see a doctor. This is especially true if you’re taking care of a child who is sick. While the doctor may just tell you to go home and let your body rest, hearing that everything is alright from them may also let your mind rest. Find more resources on managing cold and flu symptoms at the Brillia Health blog.
    Referenches: 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279543/, 2https://www.healthline.com/health/life-cycle-of-the-common-cold#days-1-to-3, 3https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm, 4https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757, 5https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-much-to-sleep-when-youre-sick, 6https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-benefits-of-chamomile-tea

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