When we are under the weather or knackered, the instructive and advisable words are always, “Go to bed”. Indeed, sleep is the best medicine. Sleep is a state of mind and body marked by modified consciousness, comparatively inhibited sensory activity, reduced muscle activity, and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles and reduced perception of surroundings. When it comes to health, sleep plays an important role. Skimping on it could be detrimental to the immune system, leaving one susceptible to viral infections. According to Dr Teofilo Lee-Chiong, Chief Medical Liaison at Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care, “Sleep and the immune system are bi-directionally linked and both have important roles in the body’s defence against diseases. The optimal immune function requires adequate sleep, and inadequate sleep impairs the immune response.”
During sleep, the immune system releases certain cytokines which help in reducing infection and inflammation. If the body is deprived of sleep, it may decrease the production of these protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies.
Consequently, sleep is an indispensable integrant of building up the body’s immunity. Worries proliferate in the Covid-19 pandemic, with most people fearing catching the coronavirus. Many people have family members who are elderly or in high-risk groups because of medical conditions. On the other hand, economic concerns are hurting everyone. As economic activity stalls and job losses mount, it is natural to worry about income, savings, and making ends meet. Also, there is so much mystery regarding this Covid-19, uncertainty over how long it will last, and this can bring anxiety and hamper sleep as the restless mind keeps the body tossing and turning.
To stay healthy amid this health crisis, seven to eight hours of sleep in the night is recommended. This will help boost your immune system and also protect from health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. If your sleep schedule is interrupted by a busy workweek or other factors, try to make up for the lost rest with naps. Taking two naps that are 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 negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.
Apart from getting ample sleep, it is also important to practise smart stay-healthy strategies such as washing hands with soap regularly, avoiding close contact with people who are obviously under the weather. As has been proven now by researchers, sleep has a strong impact on physical, mental, and immune health. According to Philips 2020 Global Sleep Survey, most people agreed that sleep is an important contributor to their physical well-being (87%) and mental well-being (86%), but only half (49%) reported being satisfied with their sleep.
While the world is battling Covid-19, let us all optimise our sleep to ensure the immune system remains strong and to support mental well-being. Dr Teofilo Lee-Chiong suggests:
Maintaining a regular bedtime and waking time. Schedule a protected time for sleep, including an anchor period (i.e., the same 4-6 hours regardless of schedule).
Naps to reduce daytime fatigue but not to replace a restful night sleep.
Cutting down on alcoholic beverages, energy drinks, and foods containing caffeine, such as dark chocolate, at night.
Limiting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, candies, and desserts that can worsen sleep quality.
Keeping the sleep environment comfortable, dark, quiet, and cool.
The writer is a PhD scholar in Clinical Biochemistry at SKIMS, Srinagar