Chances are, you or someone you know is sick with the flu at the moment. The flu season has arrived and, according to experts, it’s hitting the GTA and many parts of Canada particularly hard this year. In addition to getting the flu vaccine, sleeping well is a great way to protect yourself from the virus by ensuring that your immune system is working to its fullest.
The link between sleep deprivation and viruses such as colds and the flu has been well-documented. In fact, one study published in 2012 in the Journal SLEEP, found that sleep loss mirrors physical stress in terms of its negative impact on the immune system. Researchers in the Netherlands and the U.K compared the white blood cell counts of 15 healthy young men who were subjected to normal sleep and severely sleep-deprived conditions. The greatest changes under the sleep-deprived condition were seen in granulocytes (white blood cells that form part of the immune system). These cells showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity, along with increased numbers at nighttime. According to Katrin Ackermann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Eramus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, “the granulocytes reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss and directly mirrored the body’s stress response.”
Even if you have received the flu shot, studies have shown that those who are sleep deprived get less protection from the vaccine than those who are getting enough sleep. John Park, MD, a pulmonologist who specializes in sleep medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester explains: “We know that our immune response is suppressed when we are sleep deprived and that we develop less antibodies to certain vaccines if we are sleep-deprived. It takes longer for our body to respond to immunizations, so if we are exposed to a flu virus, we may be more likely to get sick than if we are well rested when vaccinated.”
While exposure to the flu virus may seem unavoidable, getting quality rest will help stave it off and allow your immune system to protect you.