As Indian and US health officials race to understand the coronavirus (COVID-19) better, many citizens are left wondering how best to protect themselves. In addition to washing your hands frequently with hot water and soap, maintaining social distancing and frequently disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, one of the best ways to protect against this virus is to boost your immune system. Since sleep is one of the most natural immune booster’s available to all of us, getting a good night’s rest is one way you can protect yourself.

Certified Sleep Science Coach, Dr Susheel Patil of the John Hopkins Sleep Center notes, “Although we are still learning about the coronavirus right now, we do know that if you’re healthy, you’re more likely to fight off the virus. In case you do get infected, a strong immune system will reduce the severity of the illness and help you recover quickly. And for that, the most important thing you can do to keep your immune system functioning properly is to get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.”

As of April 10th, there are more than 1,698,881 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and almost 1,02,687 deaths worldwide, with America followed by Italy suffering the most losses. As the number of cases in India increases, we must do what we can to increase our resistance. Sleep is not a cure for the coronavirus, but it does give the immune system the boost it needs to fight off infection. The basic building blocks of health enlists sleep as a vital component. To better understand why that is, let’s take a look at how sleep impacts your immune system.

How Your Immune System Works 

You’ve probably noticed when you fall sick, your sleep needs increase. This is because sleep directly impacts your immune system and your ability to fight off infection. As you rest, you are helping to make your body whole and healthy again. Your immune system works to fight against harmful germs and also against changes within the body, such as cell-mutation (cancer).

With exposure to viruses or bacteria the immune system identifies harmful invaders and attempts to neutralize them. Once the immune system recognizes a toxin, it develops antibodies designed to fight off each specific invader. Antibodies are the reason we only fight against certain viruses, such as chickenpox, once in our lives. This process is also how vaccines work. Vaccines introduce a pathogen to the body to trigger an immune response that will ultimately result in the production of an antibody. Once you have an antibody for a specific pathogen, you will maintain it for the rest of your life.

Your Immune System and Sleep

Your body is in a healthy state when everything is working correctly, and that’s when your immune system can ward off sickness. But since the immune system connects to your central nervous system, changes elsewhere in the body, such as stress or a lack of sleep due to excessive heat or humidity in the room, can impact immune function. A lack of sleep causes degenerative effects throughout the entire body, so the immune system will not work as efficiently when you are sleep deprived.

Moreover, sleep helps the immune system to re-evaluate how best to attack invaders. Without enough rest, it will have a difficult time developing antibodies and keeping up defences.

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Sleep Increases Immune System Response Time

A good night’s sleep also improves the immune system’s response time. When we cycle through all four stages of sleep, stage 1 through REM, each stage performs specific functions that are important for proper health. One of those functions is the production of the protein cytokine, which helps the immune system respond to harmful pathogens.

If we don’t cycle through all four stages of sleep at least five times each night (7 to 8 hours of sleep), our cytokine production will be limited. Without this vital protein, the immune system doesn’t have what it needs to fight off viruses.


How To Get Better Sleep

Waking up every day to more bad news while trying to manage life under lockdown is not conducive to falling asleep and staying asleep. For those already sleep-deprived from the usual daily grind, now is the time to really focus on building good sleep habits, because getting good sleep puts us in a good mood and builds our immune system.

A good night’s sleep is also vital to keeping your immune system healthy. But many of us intentionally put off rest in favour of work, social media, or entertainment, which will ultimately weaken your immune system. Below are some helpful tips that will make it easier to complete 7 to 8 hours of perfect sleep each night.

  • Turn off your screens at least 2 hours before bedtime as the electronic light (blue light) from your smartphone screens can interfere with melatonin production–making it difficult to fall asleep.

  • Keep your bedroom cool and comfortable, between 23°C to 26°C with relative humidity (RH) between 40-50%. Trying to find adequate sleep in a warm, highly humid non-air-conditioned room can make suitable rest difficult to achieve.

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  • Be sure you are sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress.

  • Create a set bedtime and wake up time. This schedule will help maintain your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

  • Avoid caffeine at least 5 hours before bed. This stimulant can keep your brain active and prevent sleep.

  • Destress before bed with a relaxing bath or hot shower, or breathing exercises. The cortisol hormone (stress hormone), can make it difficult to fall asleep.

  • Keep your bedroom dark by using blackout curtains, blinds, or eye masks.

  • Finally, get to a relaxed state. With your mind still racing, it will be difficult to get those perfect 8 hours of sleep. This may be achieved with a cup of chamomile tea, using the relaxing scents of lavender or vanilla, meditative practice, some stretching, a prayer, or a good book.

The CDC’s Recommendations for Protecting Against the Coronavirus

In addition to boosting your immune system with sleep, the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends the following precautions to ward off the coronavirus.

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent isopropyl alcohol.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

  • Avoid contact with individuals who are sick or those who show symptoms of the virus.

  • Put distance between yourself and others if the virus is present in your community.

  • Stay home if you are sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus.

  • Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth if you need to cough or sneeze, throw away used tissues immediately, and wash your hands.

  • Wear a facemask if you are sick or if you are caring for someone who is ill.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily–such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, desks, phones, handles, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

Finally, remember that getting through the next few months is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. A little attention to these sleep tips will make a big difference in your ability to fight off infection, keep your mood uplifted, make good decisions, and support your colleagues, friends and family.


This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

To read more about Sleep Answers from Sleep Expert Dr Susheel Patil hit up the John Hopkins Medicine website.

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