We all know that awful, achy feeling we get when we’re sick.
You just feel dead when you try to do anything strenuous, and even if you’ve gotten a decent amount of sleep, it’s not unusual to just feel tired no matter what you do.
Getting a good night’s sleep is one of your body’s most important strategies for fighting that nasty cold.
Read on to find out how sleeping fights sickness, and how to master sick sleep.
How Does Sleep Fight Sickness?
Sleep is our body’s ace in the hole when it comes to tackling just about any kind of sickness.
While the mechanisms involved in sleep sleep are still only partially understood, there are some things we know for sure.
First of all, sleep gives your chance a body to slow down in a way that’s just not possible while you’re awake.
Your body has having to work overtime to fight off whatever infection is throwing you off your groove, and by getting the right amount of sleep, you give your body the chance to redirect as much energy as possible into your immune system.
Deep, slow-wave sleep (or SWS) is particularly important for healing.
Sleep is when your body takes time to assess its situation, figure out what needs to be done, and start taking action.
Numerous studies have shown a link between sleep and the production of T-cells, the strike force of the immune system.
Additionally, many of the hormones involved in sleep play a double role in assisting with immune function.
Although all of the immune responses still happen when you’re awake, there’s nothing quite like sleep for giving your body time to adjust and recharge.
How Much Sleep To Get When Sick
Although it’s clear that we need more sleep when sick, there isn’t any magic number of hours you should be getting.
In general, doctors often recommend getting about an hour or two more sleep than you’d normally need.
Keep in mind, the typical adult needs somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night – and the amount most of us are getting is substantially lower than that.
Ideally, that means most of all will want to get somewhere between 8 and 11 hours of sleep a night when sick.
To be clear, though, that’s just a suggestion.
More realistic advice would be to just sleep however much it feels right to – and be aware that, even if you’re getting the right amount, you might still feel kind of blah.
How to Sleep Better When Sick
Of course, one of the hardest things about a lot of illnesses is that their symptoms often flare up right when you’re trying to get to sleep.
Coughs and postnasal drips can be particularly nasty around bedtime, making it harder for you and the people around you to get to sleep.
What should you do about this?
Well, first of all, if you normally sleep with a partner, you might want to consider moving into a different room until your symptoms have passed.
It’s annoying, but sofa city is a heck of a lot better than a completely sick household.
Think about taking cough suppressants right before bed, and also consider propping your head up with some extra pillows.
This helps prevent phlegm buildup in your throat as you’re trying to get to sleep.
You may want to consider using a nasal cleanser before heading off to bed.
Additionally, some people may benefit from a humidifier, since this can keep your throat from getting all dry and scratchy.
How to Take Better Naps
You might also benefit from taking some naps throughout the day – although you’ll want to be careful with these.
There are two main factors to think about when planning your nap: timing and length.
The Best Time to Nap
For most people, the ideal time to take a nap is between 1 and 3 in the afternoon.
Why these times?
Well, for starters, many people see a natural dip in energy levels around this time.
Our body temperature decreases slightly in the afternoon, which brings with it feelings of decreased alertness and fatigue.
The other nice thing about this time of day is that it’s early enough to not have a major impact on your sleep cycle.
Most experts do not recommend napping after 5pm, since this often makes it harder to sleep come bedtime.
How Long to Nap For
The other main thing to think about is your nap’s length.
One option, of course, is to just not set any alarm, and let your body sleep for as long as you need to.
If you’re on a bit of a tighter schedule, though – or you just don’t feel like sleeping away your entire day – you’ll usually want to set an alarm for no longer than 30 minutes.
About half an hour after you fall asleep, your brain starts to transition into some of the deeper stages of sleep.
While these sleep stages are great when it comes to building up your immune system, you may not feel so great if you’re suddenly wrenched out of deep sleep by your alarm.
You’ll likely feel pretty groggy and unhappy for a little while if that happens, which is why it’s usually best to wake up either before or after this shift takes place.
It takes your body about 90 minutes to get through an entire sleep cycle, so if you’re looking to get a little extra “power” out of that power nap, just set your alarm for an hour and a half down the road.
Otherwise, the ideal nap length is between 10 and 30 minutes.
Sleep’s Effects on Mental Health
Getting a solid amount of sleep isn’t just helpful when you’re sick, though.
It can also have a major impact on your quality of life!
Besides keeping up a strong immune system, one of the most serious effects of sleep is what it can do for your mental health.
We all know how much better we feel after getting a good night’s sleep.
(If you often end up feeling more tired after getting your solid eight hours, that’s a good sign that you’re majorly sleep deprived.)
But did you know that there’s a major link between insomnia and depression?
Low-quality sleep and low-quality moods tend to go hand-in-hand.
The less sleep you get, the worse you feel – which can bleed over into just about every aspect of your life.
Additionally, those nasty moods you get into after a rough night’s sleep can go on to make sleep harder in general.
Insomnia and depression feed off of each other.
Sleep’s Effects on Memory
Sleep loss also has some pretty worrying effects on basic mental function.
Sleep is when your brain takes the time to catalogue all the information it receives throughout the day.
During REM sleep and sleep stages 2 and 3, the brain sorts through all the data it’s taken in over the past 16 hours, and decides what to keep and what to discard.
This plays a vital role in the learning process, since you’re able to strengthen important connections.
In addition to making it harder to take in new information day-to-day, sleep loss can also have a majorly negative impact on recall of just about anything.
Whether you’re trying to remember what someone told you this morning or something that happened ten years ago, the mind just isn’t as sharp as it could be when you’re running on too little sleep.
Sleep’s Effects on Attention Span
Finally, sleep deprivation can also have pretty ruinous consequences when it comes to our attention span.
People often find their thoughts are scattered when they haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before.
The mind has trouble holding onto just one thing at a time, bring on a lack of focus that can lead to trouble at work and in our daily lives.
One of the most dangerous implications to this comes into play when you’re driving.
Even in normal traffic conditions, driving can often require split-second decisions that we may not even be fully aware of when well-rested.
When sleep deprived, however, people’s reaction time is slowed.
They also tend to take riskier decisions, often without realizing how much of a risk they’re taking at the time.
All in all, this makes getting into a motorized vehicle while on sub-par levels of sleep quite similar to driving while drunk.
It’s one of the worst decisions you can make, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that sleepy steering was responsible for 72,000 car crashes in 2013 alone.
Bottom line, you need to take care of yourself, whether you’re sick or well.
When you’ve come down with something, getting a good night’s rest can work wonders on your health, allowing you to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to fight off that sickness.
Even when you’re not sick, though, adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body.
Take time for your sleep, people.
It’s just the responsible thing to do.