Sleep is a simple way to bolster the immune system against colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections.
Until a vaccine is available, the key to avoiding COVID-19 is reducing one’s risk of infection as much as possible. Better sleep can help. Photograph by Magnus Wennman, Nat Geo Image Collection.
By Emily Sohn
Observations about sleep and its health benefits date back at least 2,000 years.
Aristotle’s publication On Sleep and Sleeplessness in 350 B.C. suggested that digestion in the stomach produces hot vapors that lead to sleep, and that people with fevers experience something similar, driving them to snooze to help the healing process.
While the vapors idea did not pan out, decades of scientific evidence show that sleep is a solid way to bolster the immune system against colds, influenza, and respiratory infections. That work suggests that sleep may be a powerful tool to fight the pandemic—and not just by reducing the likelihood or severity of infections. Sleep may ultimately boost the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines when they become available, and a flurry of studies are underway measuring how much of a health buffer we gain against the coronavirus by hitting the sack.
“We have a lot of evidence that if you have an adequate amount of sleep, you definitely can help to prevent or fight any kind of infection,” says Monika Haack, a psychoneuroimmunologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “How many deaths can you prevent if you sleep properly, or how much less is the severity of your symptoms? I think that needs more research.”
Until a vaccine is available, the key to avoiding COVID-19 is reducing one’s risk of infection as much as possible. As new data roll in on sleep and this disease, scientists hope to better elucidate the complex workings of the immune system, while also providing clearer guidelines on how to use sleep as a weapon to stave off the pandemic. Read more >>