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When you’ve come down with a cold or a flu, sleep is essential for boosting your immune system and helping you recover as quickly as possible. Getting a proper night’s rest, which is about seven to nine hours for most adults, helps your body go deeper into repair mode. This process is even more important when you’re sick and low on energy, because sleep is one of the main regulators of our immune system. When we don’t get enough sleep, it becomes harder to recover from illnesses like the common cold or the flu.
How Sleep Helps Our Immune System
Sleep is important because when we snooze, T cells, which are a major part of the body’s immune system response, are redistributed to our lymph nodes, as research published in Pflügers Archiv: European Journal of Physiology finds. The study found that in addition to T cell spreading, sleep can improve your immune system’s memory, helping to protect you better from antigens that may cause illness. Subjects in the study who had a good night’s sleep the night after getting a vaccination against hepatitis A had produced twice as many antibodies (which work to strengthen the immune system against these harmful antigens) as subjects who stayed awake during the night after getting the vaccination.
Tips For Getting Good Sleep When You’re Sick
We suggest using these tips to stock up on sleep, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and replenished even when you’re under the weather. The more closely you stick to getting enough sleep every night, the better your immune system will be at fighting against cold and flu germs.
Go to bed as early as possible.
This may sound obvious, but the earlier you go to bed, the more sleep you will be able to get at night. Laying on the couch and Netflixing, while restful, doesn’t count. Set an early bedtime for yourself, try some relaxing activities to help you unwind, and turn out the lights immediately once you’re settled into bed.
Take Theraflu to provide relief.
Cold and flu symptoms — from coughing and sneezing to a runny nose and sore throat — are uncomfortable and not conducive to falling asleep. Counteract these disruptions by taking an over the counter medicine like Theraflu, which gives you powerful symptom relief. Theraflu Nighttime Severe Cold and Cough Hot Liquid Powder Medicine contains powerful ingredients like acetaminophen (pain reliever), and diphenhydramine HCl (an antihistamine and cough suppressant), which can both help ease your symptoms while you sleep.
Unplug at least an hour before hitting the hay.
If you’re double-tapping, scrolling and swiping right, you can’t expect to catch any zzz’s. Not only is your mind still working, but smartphone and tablet displays also emit disruptive blue light that can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps your body know when it’s time to sleep.
Put devices down at least an hour or more before bed. It’s best to leave them outside of your bedroom so you won’t be tempted to keep checking them in bed. Try keeping a book on your bedside table to encourage reading before bed and when you’re having trouble falling asleep.4
Eat light before bed so you’re not tossing and turning.
If you have a heavy dinner too close to bedtime, your stomach may still be working to digest it, regardless of whether you’re ready to sleep or not. To prevent this from happening, stick to a light supper and eat on the earlier side.
Create an optimal environment for sleeping.
Your bedroom should be like a cave — dark and cool. When you are ready to turn in for the night, switch the lights completely off. It may even help to sleep on dark sheets. The room temperature should be somewhere in the 60s for restful slumber.
Use white noise to block out disruptions.
Certain sounds can help you get to sleep faster by drowning out disturbances and conversation around you. Download an app or use a music streaming service to play white noise while you sleep. See what works best for you — ocean sounds, rain, crickets chirping, etc.
Turn on a humidifier.
Dry air is a known eye, nose and throat irritant that can make cold and flu symptoms worse. With a humidifier, you can monitor the air quality in your bedroom and add moisture back into the air if it is lacking. That way, your sickness won’t get any worse, and you won’t lose additional sleep by having to deal with extra discomfort.
Have a soothing drink.
Try sipping on a soothing, caffeine-free beverage before bed to help you relax and ease some of your symptoms. Drinks like herbal tea, warm water with lemon and honey, and clear broth all help soothe a sore throat and open nasal passages before bed so your symptoms won’t keep you awake.7
In addition to avoiding caffeine, avoid any substances containing alcohol or nicotine, as both substances are known to disrupt sleep.8
Limit daytime naps.
Taking a long nap may sound tempting when you’re feeling groggy from being sick, but lengthy naps can actually interfere with your night-time sleep routine. If you need a nap, try to limit your napping time to 30 minutes, and avoid napping too close to bedtime so you can still fall asleep at the appropriate time.8
Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
Sticking to a regular sleep schedule is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to improve the overall quality of your sleep, and it is especially important when you are sick. Aim to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day and try not to change your sleep schedule by more than an hour on the weekends. Being consistent and intentional with your sleeping schedule will help reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle.8
Manage your worries and stress.
If you find yourself running through your to-do lists instead of falling asleep, try keeping a journal next to your bed so you can jot down whatever is on your mind before lying down, and then try to leave those thoughts for the next day. Stress management techniques like meditation are also great for lowering anxiety and aiding sleep.8
1. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need. Accessed 6/2/2021.
2. Sleep and Immune Function. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/. Accessed 6/2/2021.
3. Blue Light Has a Dark Side. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side. Accessed 6/2/2021.
4. Technology in the Bedroom. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/technology-in-the-bedroom. Accessed 6/2/2021.
5. How Room Temperature Affects Sleep. Sleep.org. https://www.sleep.org/temperature-for-sleep/. Accessed 6/2/2021.
6. Cold or Flu? Know the Differences. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-cold-symptoms#1. Accessed 6/2/2021.
7. Sleep Better When You’re Sick. MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=85681. Accessed 6/2/2021.
8. Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379. Accessed 6/2/2021.