BUILDING YOUR IMMUNITY WITH GOOD
SLEEP, NUTRITION AND EXERCISE.

Medically Reviewed by
Dr Ronald Krueger MD F.A.A.C.S.

FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? JUST WANT TO CRAWL BACK TO BED AND CALL IT A DAY? WE DON’T BLAME YOU. IN FACT, STUDIES SUPPORT DOING JUST THAT. ALONG WITH GOOD NUTRITION AND REGULAR EXERCISE, GETTING CONSISTENTLY GOOD SLEEP IS KEY TO BOOSTING YOUR IMMUNITY.

Studies have shown that sleep and immune health are inextricably tied to each other. Sleep enables the immune system to fight infection more effectively and it can also aid in recovery if you are feeling unwell.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to take our sleep for granted until we start to feel unwell. All it takes is a stuffy nose to prevent us from being able to sleep comfortably. When the nose is blocked, we unconsciously breathe through our mouth, often resulting in snoring and waking during the night with a dry mouth or throat. But a few simple tips, such as having a warm shower and wearing a nasal dilator, can help you get the shut-eye you need.

Combined with healthy, nutritious food choices, proper hygiene, and regular physical activity, getting the right amount of good quality sleep will optimize your immune system.

Ever feel like crawling back to bed when you feel a fever coming on?

Wanting to go to bed and throw the covers over your head is a natural response to illness. So, don’t hesitate to jump into bed early and get an extra few hours of sleep – it could spell the difference between having a sniffle or a long drawn out bout of a cold.

The link between sleep and immune function

Science has shown a link between sleep and the body’s ability to fight infections. 

A study published in Physiological Reviews found that enhanced sleep quality during an infection helps the immune system defend the body from illness. 

Likewise, lack of sufficient sleep can lead to chronic and systemic low-grade inflammation that you may experience in the form chronic pain, for example. 

It is also associated with diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis, which have an inflammatory component. 

Moreover, a study led by a researcher at University of California has found that short sleepers are four times more vulnerable to the common cold regardless of age or stress levels. 

Aside from enhancing the body’s immune response, sleep has also been shown to hasten one’s recovery from illness. 

In a study published in 2019, researchers in Germany found that sleep enables immune cells, called T-cells, to work more efficiently. The immune system responds to infection by sending out a variety of immune cells all with specific jobs to do. T-cells work on the front line, waging war against infection by recognizing and killing infected cells. 

Their advice? If you get sick, sleep as much as you can. 

That’s why the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep 7 to 9 hours each night to give the body the opportunity to repair, heal, and protect itself.

The Trifecta of Immune Health: Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise

Sleep, though important, won’t be enough to fight infection by itself. Eating well and getting regular exercise should also be a priority. In fact, sleep, nutrition, and exercise affect each other in several ways:

  • Sleep and exercise: Exercise is always a good thing, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, timing your exercise right can help you maximize the benefits of sleep. For instance, doing a strenuous workout right before bed can actually lead to poor sleep.

    In an article reviewed by Dr. David G. Davila, MD, the National Sleep Foundation recommends going to the gym at least three hours before your bedtime with the best time to exercise being in the morning or late afternoon.
    That’s because your body temperature rises during physical activity and takes about 6 hours to drop. And since cooler body temperature is linked to sleep onset, it’s crucial to give your body enough time to cool down before going to bed.
  • Sleep and nutrition: It’s important to consume nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables to promote immune health. But sleep loss can impair your ability to make healthy food choices – a study published in SLEEP found that sleep loss initiates, amplifies, and extends blood levels of a chemical signal that enhances the pleasure we experience whenever we eat sweet, salty, or high-fat snacks.

    Erin Hanlon, PhD, Research Associate in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at the University of Chicago, says that getting enough sleep, by contrast, makes it easier to resist our “hedonic drive” to eat pleasure-inducing snacks like chips, chocolate bars, and cookies.

How to fight infection

Sleep often takes the backseat to our modern and busy lifestyles. Michael Twery, Ph.D., who leads the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), laments society’s tendency to think of not sleeping enough as an admirable or “superhuman” quality. 

Dr. Twery reminds anyone who is trying to “do it all” to get enough sleep as it is essential to health and longevity. 

Here’s how you can get that deep, restorative sleep that helps combat infections:

Make time for sleep. Following a regular sleep schedule can make it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. That means having a consistent bedtime and wake time that supports your circadian rhythm.

If you’re a shift worker, make sure to get as much sleep whenever possible. Take quick naps during breaks and make sure that your home is conducive to sleep when you will be sleeping during the day. 

Make yourself comfortable. If you have trouble falling asleep, relax as much as possible before bedtime. Take a warm shower, light a few candles, try aromatherapy, or practice mindfulness or breathing techniques in bed to induce sleep. Invest in the best pillows and bed covers that your budget allows and make sure your bedroom is distraction-free.

Use technology. With so many innovative sleep-related products in the market, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be using technology to sleep better. You’ll find all sorts of devices that aim to improve sleep, from sleep trackers that offer insight into your sleeping patterns to nasal dilators that help you breathe better at night.  Be selective about what best supports your sleep. 

Slow down. Stretching, meditation, and deep breathing can calm the mind and body. If you’re the type who’s always on the go, slowing down right before bedtime can make it easier to fall asleep at night. That means pulling away from your laptop and switching off your phone about an hour before going to sleep. 

Your health is in your hands. Observing proper health and hygiene in all aspects of your life – from sleep to nutrition to exercise – can help you prevent and fight off infection with a speedy recovery.

Important Note: There are many sleep disorders that require a medical diagnosis and treatment, so if you are at all concerned, please seek advice from a medical professional.

EATING A BIG MEAL OR INDULGING IN ALCOHOL CLOSE TO BED TIME CAN PLAY HAVOC WITH YOUR ABILITY TO FALL ASLEEP AND STAY ASLEEP AS YOUR BODY PROCESSES THE FOOD AND ALCOHOL. TRY TO AVOID THIS SO YOUR BODY CAN FOCUS ON THE IMPORTANT HEALING AND REGENERATIVE TASKS IT DOES AS YOU SLEEP.

THE SLEEP BETTER NATURALLY SERIES is sponsored by Rhinomed, a medical technology company dedicated to improving sleep through better breathing. Rhinomed is the maker of Mute, to aid snoring, and Pronto Sleep, to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, naturally.

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