Losing sleep or not getting enough quality sleep will hurt your body’s immune system and greatly compromise your body’s ability to effectively fight off infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued warnings asking everyone to prepare and brace themselves, taking designated preventative measures, including distancing and infectious hygiene actions. I want to ensure understanding that getting regular, quality sleep is also a critical, protective action you can take to improve your immunity and defend yourself against viruses and disease. Good nights of sleep are essential to rebuilding a struggling immune system.

Sleep is essential to your health and boosts your natural, built-in defense system against harmful, disease-causing germs, known as pathogens. Our immune system works to block and destroy bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and fungi that can make you ill.

Yet, sadly, less than 50% of our nation report they regularly don’t get a solid night’s sleep. And millions more report a problem of insomnia, a medical condition involving difficulty falling or remaining asleep.

Steps to good nights of sleep

There are simple steps you can take to have a good night’s sleep. Daily sleep practices are key, making a huge difference between a restless night and restful slumber. Known as sleep hygiene, experts have identified key influences that can help you maximize the hours you spend sleeping, even if you experience sleep disturbances affected by insomnia, time changes or a shift in work.

The key is to have good practices that help you prepare to turn in to bed before sleep time. If you don’t have trouble getting sleep, these influences can prevent developing future sleep issues:

• Create a bedtime routine of relaxing, quiet activities at least an hour prior to going to bed: playing soft music, reading, taking a warm bath or praying/meditating.

• Avoid stimulating or stressful activities like working late on projects or other things that could send you into a fight-or-flight mode.

• Aim to power down to transition into relaxing or lulling your body and mind to sleep — turning down sounds/noises of the day.

• If you can’t get something that’s bothering you off your mind, an effective action you can take is writing your pressing issues or nagging thoughts and then putting them away to be dealt with tomorrow.

• Dim the lights as you get closer to bedtime. It helps your body increase melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. When it is dark, melatonin levels elevate. Conversely, light — whether from the sun or artificial sources such as lights or your devices like smartphones, computers and televisions — inhibits the sleep hormone. So make sure to turn off, unplug and power down electronics.

• Think comfort. Comfort of your bedroom at bedtime isn’t just a luxury, it’s important to your quality of sleep. Comfortable conditions of your bedroom and bed — sights, sounds, feelings, textures, temperature and even smells — all have a direct impact on your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up feeling well rested and energized.

• If your room is too warm or too cold, it makes it more challenging to doze off. Aim for a bedroom temp of 60 to 67 degrees.

• Stay on schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day — even on weekends — is crucial for setting your body’s internal clock.

• Average, healthy adults need 7-plus hours a night on a regular basis, with children 3-5 years old needing 10-13 hours; 6- to 12-year-olds needing 9-12 hours; and teens 8-10 hours.

• Heavy eating close to bedtime can disrupt sleep. Eat lightly several hours before your bedtime.

• In addition to being addictive, nicotine is also a stimulant that increases blood pressure and heart rate, making it challenging to fall asleep. As nicotine levels drop while sleeping, you may even experience withdrawal and wake up.

• A stimulant, caffeine takes time to wear off and can make it difficult for you to fall or stay asleep. Avoid caffeine, including some teas, sodas, energy drinks or chocolate at least 6 hours before bedtime.

• Alcohol lowers the quality of your sleep, interfering with the deeper, restorative stages of your sleep. Experts agree it is best not to drink in the late evening.

Regular, quality sleep is essential in helping to defend yourself against COVID-19 while you are taking the other precautions I have shared recently and are outlined on the CDC’s website (cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html). Stay aware and be vigilant!

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor @pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line.

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

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