News, Culture & Society

Why sleep is the best way to fight this year’s flu

Sleep may be the best weapon against the flu.

This flu season is shaping up to be one of the more deadly ones, with at least 85 adults and 30 children dying in the US from influenza-related causes so far this year.

Studies have shown lack of sleep can make the flu vaccine less effective and trigger chronic health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach, told Daily Mail Online that sleep is like ‘charging a battery’ and is necessary to stave off the flu, yet more than one-third of Americans are not getting CDC’s recommended seven hours of sleep.

Getting seven to nine hours of sleep allows the immune system to regenerate itself

‘Everyone is talking about washing their hands to prevent the flu,’ said Brantner of Sleep Zoo, a mattress and sleep news site. ‘I don’t think people really get how important getting seven to eight hours of sleep is.’

The National Sleep Foundation recommends nine to 11 hours of sleep for children aged six to 13 years old, eight to 10 hours of sleep for teenagers, and seven to nine hours of sleep for people aged 18 and older.

Brantner said meeting these guidelines are very important if people want to avoid the H3N2 influenza strain — against which the flu vaccine is only 34 percent effective. 

There are four difference stages of sleep: the first stage occurs within the first five to 10 minutes of sleep when the eyes are closed but it’s easy to wake up. The rest are light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep (REM).    

Why this year’s flu season is more deadly than others?

At least 85 adults and 30 children have died from this season’s flu outbreak. 

The US has been hit by the influenza strain H3N2, which is responsible for the country’s for most deadly flu seasons in the last 10 years.

In 2014, 147 children died from the flu, most of them from H3N2.

The flu vaccine is only 34 percent effective against the H3N2 strain. 

Out of every 100,000 hospitalizations in the US, 22.7 of them were for the flu during the first week of January, according to the CDC.

Health officials are urging people to wash their hands and avoid close contact with everyone, as some may have the virus without showing symptoms.  

Brantner said deep sleep — which starts 35 to 45 minutes after falling asleep — is when the immune system regroups itself.

During this stage, the body regenerate a certain type of T-cells that are responsible for a variety of immune responses which includes recognizing and killing virus-infected cells. 

The immune system also releases cytokines, proteins which need to increase when people have an infection or inflammation. Sleep deprivation can decrease the production, which weakens the immune system.

‘If you’re exposed to germs throughout the day, and if your body is not recharged, you’re more likely to get sick,’ Brantner explained. 

A 2012 study published in the journal Sleep found sleep deprivation can have the same impact on the immune system as stress, which can weaken the immune system and make people physically ill.

In other words, the immune system responds to sleep deprivation by working overtime.

‘If your immune system is already working hard because you can’t get enough sleep, it will be more difficult for it to stave off the flu,’ Brantner said.

Sleep even plays a role in the effectiveness of a flu shot.

When a sleep-deprived person gets a flu shot, only half of the influenza antibodies develop.

In fact, a study published in a 2012 issue of Sleep found lack of sleep can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. 

A good amount of rest is beneficial even after a person catches a flu. When a person becomes ill their body responds by getting more deep sleep and less REM sleep, so that the body can more effectively fight off the infection. 

Studies have linked lack of sleep to an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions. 

Brantner said if more people got the recommend seven to eight hours of sleep, society would become healthier in general.