Why Sleep Should Be Your No. 1 Priority for Flu Season
Scoring enough shut-eye is crucial to keeping your immune system healthy and staving off the flu and common cold
Cooler weather means sweaters, fireplaces, and hygge-but all that good comes with cold and flu season. Sure, you should stock up on vitamin C and wash your hands religiously. But one of the best things you can do to stave off the sniffles is score sufficient sleep at night.
Previous studies have shown that people who regularly get less than six hours of sleep per night were 4.5 times more likely to get a cold than those who logged at least seven. New research, though, shows that clocking enough shut-eye can actually help your immune system recognize-and react to!-viruses and bacteria faster.
It works like this: Your immune system has the ability to "remember" which bacteria or virus it has encountered in the past, which helps it to recognize and respond quicker when it encounters the same type again. (Try these immune-system boosting foods too.)
The only problem? Just like how not tallying enough Zzz's can take a toll on your actual memory, skimping on sleep can also keep your immune system from recording these initial interactions according to the new study, published in Trends in Neurosciences. The trade-off for those late nights is that your body won't be able to react as quickly when you come down with the same bug as before.
And skimping on shut-eye doesn't stop at impairing your immune system's memory. "Sleep is nature's nurse," says Wayne Scott Andersen, M.D., medical director for physician-led health network Take Shape For Life. "It's your body's way of restoring organ function, stabilizing chemical imbalance, refreshing areas of the brain that control mood and behavior, and improving performance-all of which are compromised if you aren't getting enough at night."
And, while a common cold might not be serious in the grand scheme of potential illnesses, it reduces your productivity at work and keeps you out of the gym for an extended period (a major bummer, considering Your Fitness Progress Fades Faster Than You Think). Plus, being sick further disrupts your sleep-not ideal, since even one night of inadequate sleep can ruin your mood, impair your judgment, and sour your interactions with everyone else, Andersen adds.
Think of it this way: If you focus on getting a solid seven to eight hours a night, you're killing two birds (or six considering all those perks of a good night's sleep!) with one stone. (Next up: Why Sleep Is the No. 1 Most Important Thing for a Better Body.)