Can you recall a time in your life when you didn’t get enough sleep? For many of us, this happens from time to time. We’re staying up late to study for finals in school. Or how about those many sleepless nights after welcoming a newborn. Or maybe you suffer from the occasional bout of insomnia. Think back on one of those times. Chances are that those were also times when you were more likely to catch a cold or come down with the flu or a stomach bug.
On the flip side, making sure you get plenty of quality sleep can serve as a sort of insurance policy. It strengthens your immune system and helps your body fight off any type of infection or threat that comes its way. In addition, your body will be able to heal itself faster should you come down with something if you get plenty of rest. That’s why your doctor often orders plenty of rest and fluids when you have a cold.
But why exactly is sleep so important both to boost the immune system to avoid getting sick in the first place – and during the recovery period, should you come down with something? Your immune system uses antibodies to fight an infection. At the end of the day, it works the same whether you’re preventing an infection from taking hold or fighting one off that’s taken enough of a hold to make you feel sick. These antibodies stick to the virus and affect cells, rendering them ineffective. The virus-antibody combo can then be eliminated, which is why it is important that you drink plenty of fluids. It makes it easier for your body to flush them out.
This still doesn’t explain the role of sleep, does it? I’m getting there. Your body produces antibodies more effectively while you sleep. I’m no scientist, but I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that your body isn’t busy doing everything else it has to do as you move about your day, running around, eating, getting that papercut that requires additional resources… you get the idea. While you are asleep, your immune system can work more efficiently at producing antibodies and deploying them throughout the body to fight the infection.
Keep this in mind the next time you’re tempted to burn the candles from both ends, and use it as motivation to stay home and take a nap instead of heading into work when you’re coming down with something.