“Sleep will not necessarily prevent us from ever getting sick. But not getting enough sleep may significantly worsen our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to infections such as colds, flu or COVID-19.” – Dr Nancy Huang.
Sleep is essential for our overall health.
It gives our body time to rest and helps keep our immune system strong and resilient. Sleep works on the whole body, keeping vital organs and blood vessels functioning optimally.
Sleep also helps regulate our appetite, weight, and moods and plays a vital role in supporting our daytime activities, such as attention span, memory and learning capacity.
More than ever, it’s especially important to ensure you’re getting quality sleep, as this will help fight off infections and illness.
Quality sleep and your immune system
By getting a good night’s sleep, you’re giving your body a chance to recharge its batteries.
An important part of the recharging process is your body producing and releasing cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation.
This helps your immune systems respond to and fight off infections when they occur.
Dr Nancy Huang, Australian Unity’s Chief Medical Advisor, says without a good night’s sleep, the human body doesn’t get enough time to produce or release this protein, which could then weaken the immune system.
“Sleep will not necessarily prevent us from ever getting sick,” Dr Huang says. “But not getting enough sleep may significantly worsen our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to infections such as colds, flu or COVID-19.”
Why is sleep so important, especially among older people?
For most people, the recommended amount of sleep is seven to eight hours of good quality sleep per night. This varies for children, babies and can reduce as you get older.
For older people, quality sleep is especially important, as they are more vulnerable to contracting and having worse outcomes from COVID-19. So a robust immune system bolstered by good sleeping habits is crucial.
“Alongside the social distancing, hand and personal hygiene and travel restrictions that are recommended by federal and state governments, getting a good night sleep is something every person can do to support their immunity during this crisis,” Nancy says.
How you can improve your sleep
If you’re having trouble getting quality sleep, it’s really important to understand whether this is a short- or long-term issue.
A short-term issue for example, is one where a busy work week or other personal factors are affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
For short-term issues, a good way to try to make up some lost sleep is by napping. Taking two naps – no longer than 30 minutes each (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the short-term effects of poor sleep on the immune system.
“Even grabbing a short 20 minutes siesta at lunchtime and just before dinner can help you recover from short-term sleep deficits,” Nancy says. “But if it is a longer-term issue, then it would be useful to consult your doctor or a professional to understand whether there are contributing factors such as chronic pain, side effects of medication or other symptoms of a medical conditions such as heart, lung, hormonal or kidney diseases.”