Cold and flu season is right around the corner.
It never seems to fail; when the temperature drops, the weather gets wetter, and you’re right in the swing of your busy fall routines, the sniffles start and, the next thing you know, you’re battling a full-fledged illness.
As you start down the path to recovery, consuming as many fluids and symptom-suppressers as possible, don’t forget the most important step to get rid of your cold or flu: sleep. While insufficient sleep can actually lead to a decrease in your immune function in the first place, it is extra important that you prioritize rest and sleep when you’re feeling under the weather to help you get better quicker.
Not Enough Sleep Can Decrease Immune Function
Most people don’t get sick in the off-season when they are enjoying the warm weather and laid-back vibes. Instead, sickness seems to strike during the busiest time of the year, when your stress levels are at their highest, and your plate is full of after-school activities and preparations for the holiday season. If you’re not getting enough sleep during the fall and winter months, the cooler weather, packed schedules, and never-ending to-do list could increase your chances of getting sick when exposed to a common cold or flu virus.
Your propensity to get sick when you’re not sleeping well or enough is due to a decrease in cytokines – a protein released by your immune system. When you’re fighting an infection or inflammation, the production of certain cytokines needs to increase to combat the sickness. However, if you’re sleep-deprived, the production of these cytokines can be hindered because your body may not have the time it needs overnight to produce and release inflammation-fighting antibodies.
Additionally, if you do get sick, not getting enough quality sleep can impact how long it takes you to recover.
Once You Get Sick, Sleep
There’s not a lot you can do when you’re sick, except focus on getting better. If you’re symptomatic, the best thing you can do is stay home, drink fluids and rest. The problem, however, is that sleep can be tough to come by when you’re sick, and for some reason, your sickness always feels so much worse at nighttime, making it even harder to get some sleep.
Tips to Sleep Better When You’re Sick
Here are a few tips to help make sleeping easier when you’re sick.
Take Medicine Strategically
There isn’t a cure for the common cold and flu. All you can really do is wait it out. Fortunately, there are some over-the-counter medicines you can take that can help relieve your symptoms – temporarily at least. However, while these medicines can stop your head from pounding and suppress your cough, some can interfere with your sleep. Try to avoid taking certain medicines, like decongestants that can impact your sleep quality, too close to your bedtime
Prop Yourself Up
When you’re all stuffed up, you won’t get any relief by lying down. The pressure buildup in your sinuses is exacerbated when your head is level with your body. Additionally, lying down can result in post-nasal drip collecting in your throat, disrupting your sleep. To reduce these effects, try propping up your body with a pillow or sleeping in a recliner for fewer disturbances while you try to sleep off your sickness.
Take Warm Baths and Showers
Taking a warm bath or shower before bed is always a good idea because the steam and higher temperatures can help your body relax and get ready for bed. If you’re fighting a cold or flu, you definitely don’t want to skip this pre-bed ritual. The warm air can help clear mucus lingering in your nasal passages and reduce the severity of your cough.
Sleep is the only way to speed up your cold or flu recovery time. As difficult as it can be when you’re coughing and blowing your nose every 10 minutes, some sound sleep gives your body the time it needs to recover. If you’re feeling the symptoms of an impending sickness, grab your tissues, fill up your water bottle and get to bed because sleep really is good medicine.