Have you ever noticed you're more susceptible to getting sick when you're sleep-deprived?
While extra zzz's won’t necessarily prevent you from getting ill, not getting enough sleep could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to picking up illnesses.
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Take this 2017 study, for example. Researchers took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns, and discovered that the twin with shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system, compared with his or her sibling.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, without sufficient sleep your body makes fewer cytokines, or immunity-regulating proteins. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, which helps explain why shut-eye is so important.
The Foundation recommends getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night to keep your immune system fighting fit. Discover four more health benefits of getting enough sleep.
Of course, there’s more to boosting your immunity than getting ample sleep. It’s also important to wash your hands with soap regularly and avoid close contact with people who aren't feeling well.
Tips for a good night of sleep
1. Stick to a routine
“It’s best to keep your wake-up times consistent and not sleep in too late on the weekends,” says insomnia researcher Professor Leon Lack from the School of Psychology at Flinders University, Melbourne. “Sleeping late encourages your body clock to drift forward, making it difficult to get to sleep early enough in the evening to get adequate sleep.”
2. Get some sunshine
Before you start your day, try to get out for an early morning walk or jog – and don’t wear sunglasses. “Exposure to morning sunlight is crucial for setting your body clock,” explains Professor Lack. “Indoor light isn’t usually strong enough, so you need to get outdoors into the sunlight.”
3. Get some exercise
Workouts are a top-notch stress zapper and sleep promoter, but they need to be timed right, advises Dr John Swieca, medical director of the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre. “Doing vigorous exercise in the evening increases your adrenaline levels, making it harder for you to get to sleep. I’d recommend exercising earlier on if possible, since it has an alerting effect for the first half of the day.”
4. Have a siesta
Feeling shattered after a restless night of sleep? “A midday nap is probably the best way to make up for it and get in some extra sleep,” says Professor Lack. If you can manage it, he recommends napping for an hour or whatever time you can spare. “Alternatively, a brief 10-minute nap can alleviate drowsiness for a few hours and help you get through the day.”
5. Limit your caffeine
A shot of caffeine to combat the afternoon slump may be doing you more harm than good. “Tolerance for caffeine varies among individuals, but if you find falling asleep difficult, avoid caffeinated drinks a good four hours and up to eight hours before bedtime,” recommends accredited practising dietitian Pip Golley. So, swap that afternoon latte for a cup of herbal tea instead.
6. Eat a balanced meal
“Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet promotes a sense of wellbeing and may also help to encourage a good night’s sleep,” says Golley. “Ensure you're eating plenty of wholegrains, fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meat, legumes and low-fat dairy foods.” Looking for a sleep-friendly dessert? Bananas are a good source of muscle-relaxing magnesium, so simply slicing up a banana into a small bowl of low-fat yoghurt could help you drift into a deeper sleep.
7. Turn off your computer
“Our body clock needs dim light in the evening to let it know it’s time to rest,” says Dr Swieca. So, when bedtime nears, avoid bright lights – including the blue light emitted from televisions, computer screens, tablets and smartphones. “It’s important to create a separation between the busyness of the day and the time you’re meant to rest and sleep,” he adds. “That means not checking emails and not doing stimulating activities for about an hour before bedtime.”
8. Head to bed a little earlier than usual
Routine is key, but if you’re feeling sleepy don’t wait until your usual bedtime, Professor Lack advises. “Giving yourself an extra half an hour or hour of sleep on a regular basis will increase your efficiency during the day, improve the way you feel and make life a little more pleasant.”
9. Don’t panic!
If you don’t sleep for a solid eight hours, try not to worry about it. “Waking up periodically in the middle of the night, between our 90-minute sleep cycles, is perfectly normal,” says Dr Swieca. “But some people create a conditioned response to it, and their anxiety rises and they remain wakeful.” If this is you, Dr Swieca suggests a technique known as stimulus control: “If you’re awake for what feels like 20 minutes or so, get out of bed and find a relaxing book to read in another room. When you start to feel drowsy again, go back to bed. There’s good evidence to suggest that this can make it easier to get to sleep.”
10. Cool down
A calm and relaxed environment is one of the best ways to encourage better sleep. Try investing in high-quality sheets and pillows for a more luxury feel, consider changing out your old mattress and keep your bedroom at a cool 16-18°C for optimal comfort. A room that’s too warm or too cold can interrupt sleep, as your body heat is at its lowest levels when you’re asleep. Temperatures over 24°C are thought to be too hot, while anything under 12°C is too cool for good quality sleep.