With the Coronavirus causing havoc around the world, in the absence of antiviral medication, the focus has been on social distancing and quarantine. Another important area is in boosting the body’s ability to prevent or more readily overcome infection. Regular exercise, good nutrition and an adequate amount of good quality sleep goes a long way in resisting viral infections.

Sleep is critical to the immune system and this involves getting a sufficient amount of sleep as well as ensuring good quality sleep, not affected by conditions such as sleep apnoea.

Getting sufficient sleep

Lack of sleep will suppress the production of infection-fighting antibodies, which are vital for combating viruses.

A recent study has shown that after a poor night’s sleep your killer T-cells, whose job is to bind onto cells infected by viruses and destroy them, become less effective. Lack of sleep reduces their ability to latch onto infected cells.

The impact sleep has on our ability to fight viral infections was highlighted by an extraordinary study where U.S. researchers deliberately tried to infect a large group of healthy volunteers to see how well their immune system fought back.

They asked 164 healthy men and women to wear sleep trackers and keep a record of how well they slept.

Then, in a lab, they were asked to inhale droplets containing cold-inducing viruses. Afterwards, all the volunteers were kept isolated in a hotel for five days and monitored.

It turned out that those who slept less than six hours a night were four times more likely to develop a cold than those who got seven hours or more.

In other words, not getting enough sleep made them hugely more vulnerable to the impact of the common cold virus, despite being exposed to the same level of infection.

Studies have also shown that there is no magic amount of sleep, and that different sleep needs depend on various factors, such as your age and your own personal basal need for sleep. However, on average, seven to eight hours is recommended to ensure your immune system doesn’t become compromised.

Sleep is critical to the immune system and sufficient sleep has been shown to boost the immune system, which can reduce our chances of developing infections and chronic illness.

Australian sleep specialist Olivia Arezzolo told news.com that adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order to battle coronavirus.

“Evidence shows that lack of sleep impairs immunity: Studies show a 70% reduction in natural immune cells after only four to five hours of sleep,” she told the publication.

“As a result, you aren’t able to fight off contagious viruses, such as corona, as effectively. Fortunately, this reduction is amended as soon as you have sufficient sleep (seven to nine hours).”

The bottom line is that good, quality sleep is a natural immune booster and that focusing on your sleep habits is really one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system and fight off infection.

Getting good quality sleep.

The quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. There are many people getting seven or more hours per night, yet wake unrefreshed and are sleepy during the day. It is likely they have a sleep disorder which disrupts the quality of sleep. The most common sleep disorder is sleep apnoea, which results in an interference with airflow during sleep and the inability to stay in the deeper stages of sleep. Sleep apnoea can not only cause tiredness, alterations in mood, difficulties with memory and concentration but also lead to elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and diabetes.

Of particular concern during the current pandemic is that untreated sleep apnoea can also result in decreased immune function and an impaired ability to fight viral infections.

Untreated sleep apnoea

Most people who have sleep apnoea are unaware they have it. The telltale signs of sleep apnoea are regular snoring and sleepiness during the day. If you are experiencing these symptoms it is strongly recommended that you do a sleep study, which is the only way to determine if you have sleep apnoea, and most importantly the severity. A sleep study can now be done very simply by using a monitor in your own home, and the results are very important in being able to recommend the best sleep apnoea / snoring appliance that is specific for your needs.

Controlling sleep apnoea

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnoea it is important that you are accessing treatment. If you are using an oral appliance, make sure it is properly adjusted and working optimally. If you have given up on the CPAP machine, or only using it for a few hours per night, consider using a custom made oral appliance which is significantly more comfortable for the majority of people.

Losing weight if possible, sleeping on your side, avoiding alcohol several hours before sleep and taking steps to ensure you can breathe freely through your nose can all be helpful in managing sleep apnoea and snoring.

Optimising your immune system, coupled with social distancing will go a long way in optimising your health and combat viruses.

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