Load up on sleep, not toilet paper

Advice and tips on how to protect ourselves from the coronavirus have been flowing thick and fast. Now, as panic buying starts to abate in most regions of Australia, a University of South Australia (UniSA) researcher has identified what he says is a key safeguard.

To protect from COVID-19, stockpile on sleep, not supermarket staples, to ensure the best possible health during the pandemic, says UniSA sleep and fatigue researcher Dr Raymond Matthews.

He says prioritising sleep will help protect us from COVID-19 by boosting our immune system.

“As the reality of COVID-19 steps up, people are rightly more vigilant with hand washing, social distancing and working from home, if they can. But what they may not realise is how important sleep is to their overall health,” Dr Matthews says.

“Sleep plays a vital role in the function of the body’s immune system. When people suffer from a lack of sleep, they’re reducing their body’s natural killer cells – the white blood cells that hunt down virally infected cells – which means they may be compromising their immune system and increasing their risk of getting sick.

“This is vital information for all people – not only those who are staying up late to catch up on the latest COVID-19 updates, but most importantly for our front-line healthcare workers who need sufficient sleep to rest, recover and stay healthy.”

A lack of sleep, Dr Matthews says, makes us more susceptible to infections and, importantly, getting enough of it is essential to enabling vaccines to work effectively.

“Many studies show an increase between short sleeps and increased mortality,” he says.

“One study found that a lack of sleep reduced the effectiveness of the influenza vaccination by half, indicating just how important sleep is in producing the necessary antibodies required to fight infections.

“Looking forward to when we discover a vaccination for COVID-19, we must also ensure we have sufficient sleep for it to work well.”

For those struggling to get a good night’s sleep, Dr Matthews has some key recommendations.

“Having a bedtime routine to relax and wind down before bed really helps,” he says. “This could include turning the TV off earlier and settling down to read a good book in bed, but really, it’s whatever makes you feel calm and comfortable.

He says bedtime basics for good sleep generally include:

  • avoiding cigarettes, caffeine and alcohol
  • choosing light, rather than heavy meals in the evening
  • keeping your bedroom dark, cool and quiet
  • avoiding bright light in the evening and making sure you get enough sunlight in the morning
  • exercising during the day.

“And, if you find you just can’t sleep, sometimes it’s best to get up and do something relaxing until you start to feel tired.

“These times are no doubt challenging, but sound sleep is something we should all strive for to maximise our health.”

Do you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep? Did you know that compromises your immune system?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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