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The Importance of Sleep for Your Immune System

Jan 12 featured image.jpgIF YOU’RE HAVING TROUBLE falling asleep or staying asleep at night, you know just how frustrating it can be to lie awake wishing you could catch some of those elusive Z’s. If you’re getting less than eight hours each night, it will catch up with you eventually: You’ll start to feel groggy and irritable in just a few days.

Unfortunately, the effects of sleep deprivation go far beyond making you feel tired and grumpy in the morning. Lose too much shut-eye over an extended period, and you also run the risk of doing some damage to your immune system.

Sleep and Health: The Big Connection

Generally speaking, your immune system works by sending specialized cells on the attack to seek out and kill harmful viruses and bacteria. Removing these organisms efficiently is what keeps you from getting really sick, though the side effects of excess mucus and fever can make for some uncomfortable days as your immune system does its job.

Several studies show that a lack of sleep depresses the number of germ-fighting T-cells in your bloodstream. Without these guys, you’re not as able to fight off an infection and so you may become ill more often — or have your illnesses last longer. The importance of sleep in keeping your body functioning well simply cannot be overstated.

Healthy Sleep Helps Your Body Respond to Threats

sick man in bed.jpgThe role sleep plays in supporting your immune system is complex, and there’s more to it than just counting T-cells. Your immune system also works most efficiently while you’re asleep, because all of your body’s resources can go into fighting your infection. This includes your body’s ability to raise your core temperature and trigger a fever. Though uncomfortable, fevers help your immune system fight off infections, and your body is best able to heat up while you’re asleep.

If you’re not getting the rest you need, though, your fever response can be reduced — and this means you might be less able to dispatch germs as quickly as you would if you got sufficient shut-eye.

Get Healthy Sleep When You’re Sick

The bottom line? Mom was right about needing rest to get better when you’re sick — but you also need good sleep habits to help keep you from getting sick in the first place.

The great irony here is that if you’re already sick with a head cold or the flu, it can be much harder to get a good night’s sleep because you’re already so uncomfortable — yet a lack of sleep may make it take longer to recover, pushing you into a wickedly miserable spiral.

To get good rest while your immune system works overtime, try the following tips:

    • Take Time Off: If at all possible, take a day or two off from work so you can take as many naps throughout the day as possible — capitalizing on several short sleeps can help you catch up on your total hours in dreamland.
    • Prop Yourself Up: Though it’s not normally a good idea to use a pile of pillows to keep yourself semi-upright when sleeping, the elevation can help keep coughs at bay and allow your sinuses to drain, which will help you sleep.
    • Take Medicine Before Bed: An over-the-counter remedy taken a half-hour or so before bed can ease your symptoms long enough for you to fall asleep and allow you to get some rest before it wears off.

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