How Sleep Helps Fight the Flu

What’s the best way to naturally ward off the flu? And, how much sleep do you need?

Chicken broth can feel comforting when you’re laid up with the flu, but the best medicine you can give a body battling influenza is even simpler: sleep. Did you know, it can actually take 2 to 3 times longer for your immune system to fend off illnesses if you’re sleep deprived when getting flu shot?

Sleeping lets your body direct nearly all its resources to your immune system—both in trying to avoid an infection and in healing if you do develop one.

Just as soldiers heading into battle need to be well-trained, well-armed and well-rested to defeat their enemy, your body needs to be properly trained, armed and rested to overcome an influenza infection.

The first step to training and arming your body is getting the flu shot.

“When you get the flu vaccine, you boost the immune system’s response by creating productive antibodies,” explains Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “When the influenza virus comes in, your immune system attacks it and clears it out before it causes a major infection or spreads.”

Getting vaccinated is only one part of prevention. It’s also important to wash your hands regularly and get a good night’s sleep. Research in the Journal of Sleep Research has shown, for example, that teens who get less sleep tend to get sick more. And a study this summer in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that insomnia may reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine—just as too little sleep during basic training can weaken soldiers’ skills.

But influenza is a tricky and persistent virus, so even those who follow all these recommendations may come down with a flu infection. If so, those prevention measures then become the best treatment as well.

“The best defense against your body getting the flu and in treating the flu is making sure your immune system is doing its best job possible because that’s the only way we heal from the flu,” Dr. Swanson says.

“When you’re sick with the flu, you want to make sure you’re giving some TLC to your immune system,” she says. “Well, how do we do that? We sleep, we rest, we give our body the recovery it needs so as it’s building immunity in the centers of your lymph nodes and producing antibodies, you’re allowing that factory to function.”

Select your answer, then, click “next” to see how well you’re sleeping.

 

Again, think of the soldiers: fighting an infection requires a lot of energy. The more rest you get, the more your body can focus on ridding itself of the influenza virus. That means staying home from work or school and spending some quality time in your bed so you’re not drawing energy away from your body’s troops.

“You also want to stay hydrated so your immune system can circulate properly throughout your body, and stay as fed and comfortable as you can,” Swanson says. She also recommends covering your cough, using a humidifier, and taking fever reducers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, so you feel well enough to eat and hydrate yourself.

But sleep remains the key ingredient to healing.

“You’re supporting your immune system to do what it needs to do by scooping up the influenza virus, getting it out of your mucous membranes, getting it out of your airway and getting it out of your body at large.”

Found this helpful? Check out this other post that talks about why you may get sick when you’re overtired.

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