Sleep, Your Immune System and the Flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in their latest FluView report, says influenza viruses have infiltrated most of the United States, with 43 states undergoing widespread flu activity and six others reporting “regional” flu activity. At least 601 people have died so far.

Worse, the CDC predicts that the flu will continue to come in waves for the next several weeks, re-attacking areas where it had already peaked and waned.

Sleep can play a big part in warding off the flu — and then fighting the virus if it hits hard. Sleep regenerates and nourishes our immune system, so if we’re sleep deprived for whatever reason, our immune systems are going to be affected, generally negatively.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) notes that the influenza often hits the young and the elderly the hardest because those are the two groups that most generally suffer from lack of sleep, and therefore from diminished immune responses.

The NSF elaborates: “Poll data shows that on average, newborns to 10-year-olds don’t even meet the low range of recommended hours of sleep each night, while two-thirds of older adults say they suffer from frequent sleep problems, including insomnia, which often prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep.”

And if you do get the flu, sleep is the most regenerative, restorative avenue you can take in overcoming the virus.  Since sleep reduces your autonomous functions to an all-time low, your immune response will be at an all-time high.

But getting that sleep can be difficult if you’re stuffed up and find it hard to breathe. Many doctors recommend against cold and flu medications, which, while reducing the stuffiness, often contain mild stimulants that keep you awake. Better yet are nasal decongestant sprays, which will free your airway without any stimulus effect.

To ward off the flu and other diseases, it’s essential that you get a good night’s sleep every night, both while healthy and while health challenged.

The NSF gives this year-round advice: “Schedule sleep like any other daily activity. Put it on your ‘to-do list’ and cross it off every night. But don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done — stop doing other things so you get the sleep you need.”

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