As US health officials scramble to understand the coronavirus (COVID-19) better, many Americans are left wondering how best to protect themselves. In addition to washing your hands with hot water and soap, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and frequently disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, one of the best ways to protect against this virus is to boost your immune system. Since sleep is a natural immune booster, getting a good night’s rest is one way you can protect yourself.
Editor-in-chief and Certified Sleep Science Coach, McKenzie Hyde notes, “Although we don’t know much about the coronavirus right now, we do know that if you’re healthy, you’re more likely to fight off the virus. If you do contract it, a strong immune system will reduce the severity of the illness and help you recover quickly. When it comes to your immune system, the most important thing you can do to keep it functioning properly is to get a full 7 hours of sleep each night.”
As of March 10th, there are more than 113,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and over 4,012 deaths worldwide, with China suffering the most losses. As the number of cases in the US increases, we must do what we can to increase our resistance. Sleep is not a cure for the coronavirus, but it does give the immune system the boost it needs to fight off infection. As we consider how best to guard against the coronavirus, it’s helpful to remember the basic building blocks of health, of which sleep is a vital component. To better understand why that is, let’s take a look at how sleep impacts your immune system.
How Your Immune System Works
You’ve probably noticed that your sleep needs increase whenever you’re sick. The reason for this is because sleep directly impacts your immune system and your ability to fight off infection. As you rest, you are helping to make your body whole and healthy again. Your immune system works to fight against harmful germs. It also helps to fight against changes within the body, such as cell-mutation (cancer).
With exposure to viruses, parasites, bacteria, and fungi, the immune system identifies harmful invaders and attempts to neutralize them. Once the immune system recognizes a toxin, it develops antibodies designed to fight off each specific invader. For each virus your body fights off, the immune system maintains the antibody so it can fight against this invader again. Antibodies are the reason we only fight against certain viruses, such as chickenpox, once in our lives. This process is also how vaccines work. Vaccines introduce a pathogen to the body to trigger an immune response that will ultimately result in the production of an antibody. Once you have an antibody for a specific pathogen, you will maintain it for the rest of your life.
Sleep and Your Immune System
When everything is working correctly, and your body is in an overall healthy state, the immune system can ward off sickness. But since the immune system connects to your central nervous system, changes elsewhere in the body, such as a lack of sleep or excessive stress, can impact immune function. A lack of sleep causes degenerative effects throughout the entire body, so the immune system will not work as efficiently when you are sleep deprived.
Additionally, sleep affords the immune system the chance to recoup and reevaluate how best to attack invaders. Without enough rest, it will have a difficult time developing antibodies and keeping up defenses.
SEE MORE: If your mattress is preventing you from getting the sleep you need, check out the best mattresses of 2020.
Sleep Increases Immune System Response Time
A good night’s sleep also improves the immune system’s response time. When we cycle through all four stages of sleep, stage 1 through REM, each stage performs specific functions that are important for proper health. One of those functions is the production of the protein cytokine, which helps the immune system respond to harmful pathogens. Cytokines increase cell to cell communication, enabling the immune system to direct antibodies towards specific infections.
If we don’t cycle through all four stages of sleep at least five times each night (7 to 8 hours of sleep), our cytokine production will be limited. Without this vital protein, the immune system doesn’t have what it needs to fight off viruses.
Sleep Increases T Cell Production
T Cells (white blood cells) also play a vital role in immune function. These cells help the immune system attack and destroy harmful cells. New research now shows that sleep can improve your T Cell’s ability to fight off invaders. Study participants who slept a full 7 to 8 hours had a greater T Cell activation, while those who lost 2 hours of sleep had a significant reduction in T Cell function. Sleep loss slowed down T Cell response time–making it possible for infections to get past defensive barriers.
How To Get Better Sleep
Adequate sleep is vital to keeping your immune system healthy. But many Americans intentionally put off rest in favor of work, social media, or entertainment, which will ultimately hurt your immune system. Below, we include some helpful tips that will make it easier to find a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Avoid electronic light (blue light) at least 2 hours before bedtime. The light from electronic screens can interfere with melatonin production–making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Be sure you are sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress. Trying to find adequate sleep on a broken-down, sagging mattress can make suitable rest difficult to come by.
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- Create a set bedtime and wake up time. This schedule will help maintain your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 to 7 hours before bed. This stimulant can keep your brain active and prevent sleep.
- Destress before bed with a relaxing bath or shower, journaling, or breathing exercises. The cortisol hormone (stress hormone), can prevent relaxation and make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool and comfortable, between 60 and 67 degrees.
- Declutter and remove any stress triggers from your sleep space.
- Keep your bedroom dark by using blackout curtains, blinds, or eye masks.
The CDC’s Recommendations for Protecting Against the Coronavirus
In addition to boosting your immune system with sleep, the CDC recommends the following precautions to ward off the coronavirus.
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent isopropyl alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.
- Avoid contact with individuals who are sick or those who show symptoms of the virus.
- Put distance between yourself and others if the virus is present in your community.
- Stay home if you are sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus.
- Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth if you need to cough or sneeze, throw away used tissues immediately, and wash your hands.
- Wear a facemask if you are sick or if you are caring for someone who is ill.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily–such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, desks, phones, handles, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
The panic over the coronavirus has caused misinformation to circulate. To help you better understand the facts, we include answers to some of your most pressing questions below.
Can Cold Weather Kill the Coronavirus?
There is no evidence to suggest cold weather can kill the coronavirus or any other disease. According to WHO, the internal body temperature of a healthy individual will remain between 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the external temperature.
Can You Get the Coronavirus Through Food?
Current evidence suggests the coronavirus spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. There is no evidence to suggest transmission can take place through food.
Does the Coronavirus Only Affect Older Adults?
Anyone can contract the coronavirus, but the CDC notes those over 60 and those with underlying health issues do have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill. Therefore, these individuals should avoid large crowds.
Can the Coronavirus Be Transmitted Through Goods Manufactured in China or Other Affected Countries?
The coronavirus can remain on a surface for a few hours or up to several days. Still, it is unlikely the virus can persist on a surface that has been moved or exposed to different conditions and temperatures.
Should I Wear a Facemask Even If I’m Not Sick?
The CDC does not recommend healthy individuals wear a facemask. However, those who are infected, show symptoms of infection, or are caring for someone who is infected should wear a facemask.
Can Pets Spread the Coronavirus?
There’s no evidence to suggest pets, such as cats or dogs, can become infected with the coronavirus. However, it is best to avoid close contact with animals if you do become sick. You should also be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets.
Can Antibiotics Prevent or Treat the Coronavirus?
Since the coronavirus is not a bacteria, antibiotics are not an effective means of treatment. However, WHO notes some patients hospitalized for the coronavirus may receive antibiotics since co-infection is possible.
The growing concern over the coronavirus is understandable. Fortunately, health officials are working hard to provide more answers and slow the spread of the virus. As you prepare to protect yourself and your family, remember, sleep is one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system and arm against infection.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.