Why Sleep is a Powerful Weapon Against the Flu
Are you ready for another flu season? It’s coming and you need adequate rest to help you through it
As much as we’re excited about the changing seasons (because it means the holidays are coming and cozying up in warm sweaters), it also marks the impending arrival of flu season. Not that you need a reminder, but flu season peaks from December to February, with a healthy (pardon the pun) ramp up in October and November. Every year, like clockwork, an estimated 5 to 20% of the American population will get the flu.
But there’s good news. Along with getting a flu shot (talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting one early in the season), one of the most powerful weapons against getting sick and preventing illness is easy, free and widely available to everyone. SLEEP. Its healing and preventative health benefits are well documented – and it’s yours for the taking.
Sleep! Our very own remarkable defense mechanism
There’s a growing amount of evidence that makes a strong case for sleep and its important role in maintaining short and long-term health. Conversely, it’s well understood that sleep deprivation opens the door to a wide range of illnesses by weakening the body’s immune system, now and in the future.
Specifically, it’s the T-cells that bolster our cellular immunity and ability to defend ourselves from disease. Pulling a few all-nighters to get some work done or a weekend full of partying into the wee hours over the holidays are enough to make you more susceptible to colds and flu. That’s just one more reason to make sleep a priority and stick to a regular bedtime schedule.
How sleep helps to beat the flu and keep you healthy
Research done at Washington State University in Spokane has gained some insight into why your mom’s advice on handling the flu – “get some sleep” – is still the best medicine. Sleep is associated with a brain protein called AcPb that has been show to speed up recovery in tests done on lab mice that were infected with the flu strain H1N1.
Another part of sleep/flu equation is tied to its effect on fevers that are often part of the illness. When you feel flush and hot, that’s a sign your body is hard at work, engaged in a battle against the flu virus. Fevers tend to rise at night when you’re sleeping (and coincidently when your body is in full repair mode). If you’re up late watching Jimmy Kimmel, reading or out at a nightclub and not sleeping, your body isn’t in prime fighting condition.
According to WebMD, those who are short on sleep also aren’t getting maximum benefit from their flu shots. Along with the immune response being suppressed, the body develops fewer antibodies and it takes longer for it to respond to immunizations.
The secret is to make sure you’re getting deep sleep, where your body is able to do it’s heavy lifting to protect and restore you. It strengthens the immune system to the max and you’ll make fight off the flu better and make a speedier recovery because of it.
Flu fighting basics 101
Flu symptoms may include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. Many of these are similar to what you may experience with a cold, but the key differences are high fever and muscle aches. Those are more common with the flu. And one other point to note: Influenza comes on fast and strong, more so than colds.
Colds tend to go heavy on congestion but are less apt to cause complications than a flu bug. The CDC strongly recommends that Americans from the age of 6 months and up get a flu shot. More than 117 million doses of flu vaccine have already been distributed for the coming season.
For more information, see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
10 must-dos when you have the flu
- Stay home. Sharing is nice most of the time, but not when you have the flu. Keep your germs to yourself by not going to work or to school. The CDC says you should stay put at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. In the meantime, if you must leave your home, consider wearing a facemask to help prevent spreading the virus to others.
- Wash your hands often. To protect others in your household from getting sick, lather up with soap and wash for at least a full minute. A facemask will also help stop the spread.
- Talk to your doc. There are several antiviral drugs that your physician can prescribe to shorten the length of your illness by 1 or 2 days and lessen the severity of your symptoms. These medications may be beneficial especially to those who are at higher risk of having complications due to the flu. They include young children, adults over the age of 65 and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma. The drugs are most effective when taken within 2 days of becoming ill.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. As many as 19,500 flu viruses can be expelled with just one sneeze. Then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Keep hydrated. Sipping water or tea will help thin mucus secretions in the lungs so you’ll breathe a bit easier. Add a touch of honey to warm water and tea to take advantage of its antioxidant powers and soothe your throat.
- Use a pain reliever recommended by your doctor or pharmacist to ease aches and pains that come with flu.
- Boost your zinc intake. To shorten the duration of your symptoms, take zinc supplements, but no more than 50 mg a day.
- Bump up the ginseng. This natural remedy can bolster the levels of virus-tackling white blood cells and immune helping interleukins.
- Get steamy. If you’re feeling congested, take a long extra warm shower and let the steam help loosen trouble-causing mucus.
- Get some rest. Expending energy to fight inflammation and infection can make your body weary. It’s no old wives’ tale. Sleep really is good medicine. Curb your normal activities and don’t do anything stressful while you’re sick so you can give your body the maximum opportunity to heal itself.