Sleep is often overlooked as a critical part of our overall health, but especially our immune health. Getting a good nights sleep, on a regular basis, may help protect against infectious diseases like Coronavirus.
Research shows that sleep plays a powerful role in supporting healthy immune system function. In fact, sleep and immune function are closely connected (1,2,3). Not getting enough sleep can increase the likelihood of infection (4,5). Illness and disease can disrupt your sleep further, which in turn slows down your recovery time (6,7). Consistent sleep better helps your body to fight off illness and getting enough sleep supports your overall health and well-being. The benefits of sleep are both preventive and restorative; experts recommend between seven to nine hours of sleep every night for optimal health.(8)
Healthy sleep habits
Sleep is critical to healthy immune system function, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one third of Americans don't get enough sleep every night. Here are some simple and achievable ways to improve the quality of your sleep:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day—even on the weekends.
- Take in more daylight and limit exposure to artificial light, especially before bedtime. Daylight reinforces the ‘awake’ phase of your body’s sleep cycle, so spending more time outside during the day can make it easier for you to fall asleep at night. If you are inside most of the day, try to sit close to a window or take breaks outside when you can. In the evening, spend less time with electronics.(9,10) Blue light from back-lit devices like cell phones, computer monitors, and tablets mimics daylights and stimulates wakefulness. Using electronics before bed tricks your body into thinking it’s still daytime and can make it harder for you to fall asleep. Limit your use of electronics at least one hour before bedtime and get into bed only when you are tired. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing.
- Create a dark environment. Use room darkening shades or an eye mask since light stimulates your body to wake up
- Stay active. Exercising promotes better sleep at night. Strenuous activity at night, however, can make it harder to fall asleep. Give yourself plenty of time between finishing your workout and winding down before bed.
- Avoid caffeine, heavy meals, and alcohol before bed. What you eat and when you eat it could be holding you back from a restful night’s sleep. Try to avoid large meals before bed and limit your consumption of alcohol. While it may help you fall asleep, alcohol can cause you to wake up during the night. Caffeine may affect sleep if consumed six hours prior to bedtime.
- Take naps. Napping can boost your immunity and make you feel more alert, which increases cognitive performance and productivity. Shoot for a 20 to 30-minute nap early to mid-afternoon. Napping later in the day can make it harder to fall asleep. Remember, while napping can help you catch up on sleep from one bad nights sleep, it isn’t a substitute for consistent nightly sleep.
- Take time to unwind and destress. Practice mindfulness or engage in light stretching before bed as a way to reduce stress or anxiety. Anxiety is a leading cause of sleep dysfunction (11). Check out our list of great (and free) meditation apps here!
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This is part two in our COVID-19 and Autoimmunity Series. Continue reading the rest of our series here:
1)Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2019;99(3):1325-1380. doi:1152/physrev.00010.2018
2) Del Gallo F, Opp MR, Imeri L. The reciprocal link between sleep and immune responses. Arch Ital Biol. 2014;152(2-3):93-102. doi:12871/000298292014234
3) Gamaldo CE, Shaikh AK, McArthur JC. The sleep-immunity relationship. Neurol Clin. 2012;30(4):1313-1343. doi:1016/j.ncl.2012.08.007
4)Ibarra-Coronado EG, Pantaleón-Martínez AM, Velazquéz-Moctezuma J, et al. The bidirectional relationship between sleep and immunity against infections. J Immunol 5) Res. 2015;2015:678164. doi:1155/2015/678164
Irwin MR, Opp MR. Sleep health: reciprocal regulation of sleep and innate immunity. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017;42(1):129-155. doi:1038/npp.2016.148
6)Dantzer R, O’Connor JC, Freund GG, Johnson RW, Kelley KW. From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(1):46-56. doi:1038/nrn2297
7)Bryant PA, Trinder J, Curtis N. Sick and tired: does sleep have a vital role in the immune system? Nat Rev Immunol.2004;4(6):457-467. doi:1038/nri1369
8) Consensus Conference Panel, Watson NF, Badr MS, et al. Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Sleep. 2015;38(8):1161-1183. doi:5665/sleep.4886
9)Shechter A, Kim EW, St-Onge MP, Westwood AJ. Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. J Psychiatr Res. 2018;96:196-202. doi:1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.015
10)Heo JY, Kim K, Fava M, et al. Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: a randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison. J Psychiatr Res. 2017;87:61-70. doi:1016/j.jpsychires.2016.12.01
11)Sleep disorders. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Accessed March 17, 2020. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/sleep-disorders