Can you remember a time in your life when you did not get enough sleep? For many of us this happens from time to time. We stay up late studying for our final exams at school. Or how about the many sleepless nights after welcoming a newborn baby? Or maybe you suffer from occasional insomnia. Think back to one of those times. Those were probably also times when you were more likely to catch a cold or get the flu or a stomach bug.
Conversely, a good night’s sleep can serve as a kind of insurance policy. It strengthens your immune system and helps your body fight off any kind of infection or threat that comes your way. In addition, your body can heal itself more quickly if you get sick when you have a lot of rest. This is why your doctor often orders plenty of rest and fluids when you have a virus.
But why exactly is sleep so important for strengthening the immune system so that you don’t get sick in the first place – and in the recovery phase when you are a bit ill? Your immune system uses antibodies to fight an infection. Ultimately, it works the same whether you are preventing an infection or fighting one so strong that you feel sick. These antibodies attach to the virus and attack the cells, rendering them ineffective. The virus-antibody combination can then be eliminated, so it is important that you drink plenty of fluids. This will make it easier for your body to flush it out.
That still doesn’t explain the role of sleep, does it? I’m on my way there now. Your body produces antibodies more effectively during sleep. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that your body isn’t busy doing everything else it needs to do while you’re moving around all day, walking around, eating, getting that paper cutout that requires extra resources… you get the picture. While you sleep, your immune system can work more efficiently to produce antibodies and use them throughout your body to fight the infection.
Remember this the next time you are tempted to burn the candle from both sides and use this as motivation to stay home and take a nap instead of going to work when you feel sick.