Sleep is so much more than just a nightly rest to recharge for the day. There are many health benefits to getting a good night of sleep — including helping to protect yourself from COVID-19. Proper sleep keeps your immune system strong, and a stronger immune system will help you fight off infections and viruses, like the novel coronavirus.
Winter can be tough on your immune system, as the cold weather can wear you down and make you more susceptible to getting sick. There’s a reason you tend to catch a cold or flu in the winter! It all comes back to your immune system. One of the best things you can do for yourself in winter (and all the time) is to get a good night of sleep every single night. We know that’s not always easy to do, but it’s something to work toward. Ahead, we’ll provide you with more information on how sleep affects your health, specifically your immune system, and give you tips for boosting your immune system this winter so you can stay safe from COVID-19.
The Effects Of COVID During The Winter
COVID-19 can wreak havoc on your immune system. When your body is infected with the novel coronavirus, your immune system naturally reacts to fight it off. Though research is still being done on the virus, it is still an incredibly difficult one for the immune system to fight, especially if your immune system is already compromised in some way. In winter, it’s believed that your immune system can also be slightly weaker, making it an even harder time of year to be faced with COVID-19, and incredibly important to do everything you can to boost your immune system and avoid the coronavirus.
Before you start considering the effects of COVID-19 during the winter, make sure you know the symptoms of the virus. Symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Loss of taste and/or smell
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Chest pain
- Pink eye
One of the best ways to set up your immune system for success in the winter is by getting enough quality sleep. Studies have proven that a lack of sleep can lower your immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, thus making you more prone to catching something — like COVID-19. This winter, while you’re following CDC best practices for slowing the spread of COVID-19, like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and disinfecting things, add a good night’s sleep to your list of things to do every day.
Sleep And The Immune System
When you don’t get enough sleep, put simply, your immune system gets weaker. While you’re sleeping, your body releases cytokines, proteins that your body needs to fight off infections. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your immune system isn’t getting the opportunity to replenish these cytokines, so it’s prepared to fight off any illnesses. You also need more of these cytokines when you are sick, so if you’re sick and not sleeping, you’re in an even worse position to try to recover.
Your body also produces fewer infection-fighting antibodies if you aren’t getting enough sleep, which puts you at a disadvantage for getting better when a bug is going around. This means it’s incredibly important to get enough sleep each night so you can keep your immune system working properly.
How the Stages of Sleep Impact Immunity
If you’re not familiar with what’s actually happening when you sleep, we’ll clue you in on it. Your body goes through four sleep stages; three of these are Non-REM sleep, and the fourth is the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle. Your REM sleep cycle is typically when you experience dreams and your brain is more active. On the other hand, during your NREM cycles, your sleep fluctuates from light to a much deeper sleep than the REM cycle.
The body cycles through these stages throughout sleep, going through two phases of NREM, followed by another phase of NREM that’s your deep sleep, followed by a REM cycle. Each lasts for different amounts of time and each has a function for your body. It’s the third NREM cycle when you’re in a deep sleep that your body repairs the immune system and rebuilds it, so it’s ready to help you fight off infection. This is why sleep is crucial to keeping you healthy. If your body isn’t hitting that quality deep sleep, it’s not able to boost the immune system.
Is My Immune System Strong?
Signs of a weaker immune system include:
- Super High Stress Levels: Being stressed can definitely affect your immune system, and it would be no surprise if you’re stressed with this world we’re currently living in. COVID-19 has been a huge stressor on people, not to mention everything else happening right now, so wherever you can find a way to relieve stress would be helpful.
- You Keep Catching Colds: If you get colds often, it’s because your immune system isn’t working properly to fight them off. A stronger immune system can usually prevent colds. That being said, no one is completely immune from a cold, so don’t be alarmed if you do get them occasionally. It’s only a concern if they’re frequent.
- Your Stomach Is Giving You A Hard Time: Stomach troubles can be any number of things and aren’t always the immune system. However, the immune system can lead to stomach problems if it cannot fight off bacteria or something similar.
- Even Minor Cuts Take A Long Time To Heal: Another part of the immune system is the regulation of inflammation. If your immune system is weak, it can’t control the inflammation around a wound, which will make the healing process slower.
- You Are Always Getting Infections: Similarly to colds, if you get infections often, it’s a sign that your immune system isn’t fighting off what it should be.
- You Never Feel Rested Enough: Like we said, sleep and immune systems are linked. If you’re tired often, your immune system is probably weaker, and it’s a vicious cycle of neither improving. Focus on improving your sleep habits to then, in turn, improve your immune system.
You can improve your immune system, though! Try any of the following:
- Exercise: Exercise is an all-around good thing. It can do a lot for your health, including bolstering your immune system. You don’t have to do a ton of exercise to see the effects, though. As little as 30 minutes of daily exercise can go a long way.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking can weaken your immune system and affect your body’s ability to control inflammation. In addition to these things, it’s also just bad for your health overall.
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables: This goes without saying, but the vitamins and nutrients in healthy foods will bolster your immune system.
- Drink only in moderation: Alcohol, in general, isn’t great for your body. It’s not doing you any favors with your health, but in moderation, it also shouldn’t be too much of a detriment. Make an effort to not drink in excess to not mess with your sleep cycle and bodily functions, which will then weaken your immune system.
- Get adequate sleep: Again! This one is so important! Your body needs proper sleep to replenish your immune system.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly: You should have already been washing your hands frequently, but with COVID-19 in mind, you should be doing that even more. Keeping yourself and your surroundings clean can help keep infections away.
- Try to minimize stress: Stress is not fun to deal with and can also affect your health. It can mess up your sleep, make you feel physically ill, etc. If you can roll back on the stress in your life and relax some more, you’ll hopefully get better sleep, which will definitely help boost your immune system.
Boosting Your Sleep Quality for a Stronger Immune System
Something as simple as purchasing a new mattress can do a lot for your immune system! Here’s why: a proper mattress that’s new, accommodating, and clean can help you sleep better, first of all. Better sleep means a better immune system. A new mattress will also help eliminate any allergens or germs that might have been in your old mattress, which can help you breathe better and, thus, sleep better. So consider a new mattress to help your immune system — there’s one for every budget.
Beyond that, you can do plenty of things to help yourself feel better, and a great time to start these is in the new year. Try setting up some fun and practical habits in the new year that will set you up for healthy success and a COVID-19-free future. Here are some ideas:
- Create a nighttime routine: Have you noticed that we want you to get good sleep? It makes so much of a difference. Set up a routine for bedtime that will guarantee a good night of sleep.
- Eat better: This might take some figuring out, but try eating healthier foods, like whole foods, and cut out processed foods. This will help make you feel better and also contribute to overall better health.
- Move more: Try to get up and move around more. Exercise is a great way to help your body and your immune system. You don’t have to commit to rigorous workouts at the gym, though; you can simply walk around your neighborhood block a couple of times a day.
- Cut back on sweets: We aren’t even telling you to cut them out completely; just cut back. Sugar can be detrimental to your health, so try cutting back on desserts and sweet beverages.
- Get quality sleep: Once you’ve set up your bedtime routine, this should come easily, but it deserves its own spot on the list. Make sure you’re giving yourself enough hours each night to sleep and make sure those hours count.
- Practice self-care: Self-care goes a long way for your mental and physical health. Self-care can help lower your stress levels, which will help you relax and sleep and keep your immune system running properly. Self-care can also just make you feel good, and a happier you is a healthier you.
- Cook more: Find some recipes you like and try to cook more at home if you don’t already. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and hopefully a well-balanced meal. Both things will help keep you happy and healthy.
- Get some air: Fresh air is such a lovely thing to enjoy! With COVID-19 in mind, try to get some fresh air in the new year, even if it’s just walking around your neighborhood with your mask on.
If you’re concerned about your immune system or COVID-19 in general, it’s best to take the proper steps to protect yourself and even speak to your healthcare provider. They can advise you on any infections you might be encountering and help you manage your health in the safest and best way for you. They can also give you further advice for boosting your immune system and staying healthy. Otherwise, it’s important to maintain healthy sleep habits paired with conscious eating and exercise to help boost your immune system and keep it fighting against illnesses such as COVID-19.