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Sleep Your Way Through The Lockdown. Your Immune System Will Thank You For It!

Now that we’re encouraged to stay home, maybe we’ll finally have time to catch up on those ZZZs

We’ve always taken sleep for granted. For an adult who has to spend two to four hours each day for commute, eight (or more) hours at work, and with little remaining for errands and Netflix-bingeing, the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep seems almost impossible.

But now that more companies are imposing work from home schemes and we are all advised to stay home as much as possible in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, maybe this is a sign for us to pay attention to the most important things that we’ve started to forget: spending time with our families, coming together in the table for a meal, and having enough sleep.

Covid-19 is fast contaminating the world. And we’ve read over and over again how a good immune system is one of our most important shields against contracting it. Dr. Michael Breus, a California-based clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, emphasizes how important sleep is to help your immune system run as efficiently as possible.

He says, “You can think of your immune system as your body’s football coach and sleep as its halftime break. Good coaches make adjustments at halftime, after recognizing what their opponents are doing effectively. Sleep plays the same role for your immune system, giving it a chance to fully assess any threats. The immune system can then deliberately tackle antigens, directing its cells—or players in this analogy—as they mount a counterattack. Without enough sleep, though, your body will have a hard time implementing the best game plan to fight back against illness.”


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The science behind sleep

There are two very important factors at play when it comes to sleep and immunity: T Cells and cytokines.

T Cells are critical when the body needs to respond to viruses. They are what the immune system tasks to fight off virus-carrying cells—in this case, the coronavirus. And a study published by the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that those with a full night of sleep reported higher levels of T Cell activation compared to the sleep-deprived.

An animation of T Cells attacking a virus from "Cells At Work" anime | Aniplex

Cytokines, on the other hand, are proteins that are key in directing cells towards infections to respond to the attack. And these cytokines are only produced efficiently during sleep. “Sleep loss stymies cytokine production, and in the process makes it harder for your body to battle back against viruses,” Dr. Breus adds


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Getting quality sleep

Researchers from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School cites one theory that proposes: the immune system evolved "sleepiness inducing factors" because inactivity and sleep provided an advantage; those who slept more when faced with an infection were better able to fight that infection than those who slept less. And when it comes to getting enough sleep, they’ve also identified good practices known as “sleep hygiene” to help you maximize the hours that you’re asleep.

  • Avoid caffeine four to six hours before sleep
  • Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment by lowering all lights, keeping your room temperature at 15-23 degrees Celsius, and using comfortable mattresses and pillows
  • Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine to ease the transition of wake time to sleep time like taking a bath, reading a book, or practicing relaxation exercises.
  • Keep your internal clock set by sleeping and waking up at the same time each day
  • Drink enough water but not so close to bedtime so you’re not awakened by the need to go to the bathroom
  • Keep your naps short and before 5 p.m.

Happy sleeping and stay safe!


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