A lack of sleep affects your immune system - here's how quality sleep can help you fight the coronavirus


Sleep deprivation is so common around the world that it’s often shrugged off, making people "comfortable" with functioning on minimal sleep. According to the South African Society of Sleep Medicine, about 30 to 40% of South African adults suffer from insomnia.

A previous Health24 article mentions that there is no magic amount of sleep, and that different sleep needs depend on various factors, such as your age and your own personal basal need for sleep. However, on average, seven to eight hours is recommended to ensure your immune system doesn't become compromised.

Sufficient sleep can boost your immune system

Sleep is critical to the immune system. Getting less than the recommended amount is not just detrimental to your physical health, but your brain health too. Sufficient sleep has been shown to boost the immune system, which can reduce our chances of developing chronic illness. 

A healthy immune system can fight off infection

Studies have shown that when we are completely deprived of sleep, our immune systems are severely compromised, as reported in a 2017 study

Another study monitored participants’ sleep patterns and found that those who were recorded as having less than five hours' sleep per night had 4.5 times the risk of catching a cold, compared with those sleeping more than seven hours a night, according to the National Health Service (NHS).

Similarly, a University of California study also found that people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus, compared to those who manage more than seven hours a night.

Australian sleep specialist Olivia Arezzolo told news.com.au that adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order to battle coronavirus.

"Evidence shows that lack of sleep impairs immunity: Studies show a 70% reduction in natural immune cells after only four to five hours of sleep," she told the publication.

"As a result, you aren't able to fight off contagious viruses, such as corona, as effectively. Fortunately, this reduction is amended as soon as you have sufficient sleep (seven to nine hours)."

The bottom line is that good, quality sleep is a natural immune booster and that focusing on your sleep habits is really one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system and fight off infection.

Slowing down

Feel like your health is deteriorating and your body is crashing? It might be that you’re losing at the sleep game and need to improve your sleep patterns. Here are some tips to sleep better at night:

  • Stick to a regular bedtime, as much as you can.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and eating a couple of hours before going to bed.
  • A bedroom that is aesthetically-pleasing, i.e. without clutter, will help create a more soothing environment and help you fall asleep faster.
  • Limit your phone interaction time – bright light, particularly blue light from electronics and LED bulbs can disrupt your sleep

Apart from sleep, stress, diet and exercise, basic hygiene are also crucial for ensuring a healthy immune system. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests the following tips to protect yourself against the Covid-19 virus:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap.
  • Maintain a social distance of at least one metre between yourself and someone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow or a tissue when sneezing.
  • If you display symptoms of the Covid-19 virus, seek medical help.

World Sleep Day® is an annual event and aims to raise awareness of sleep as a human privilege that is often compromised by the habits of modern life.

READ MORE | Coronavirus in SA: All the confirmed cases

READ MORE | Not getting enough sleep? You have plenty of company

READ MORE | What impact does getting less than 7 hours of sleep have on your body?

Image credit: iStock

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