Why Sleep is the Best Prescription

As a pediatrician, I am constantly seeing so many different children with so many different illnesses.

And although I’ve been able to build up a pretty decent immunity after so many years of being exposed to countless different viruses and bugs, I inevitably get struck by an illness at least once or twice a year that takes me out for upwards of 1 week.

And what I’ve learned after years of “hotty totty’s”, Nyquil, antibiotics and all the other home remedies you can think of is that there was really one factor that seemed to make a significant difference in my recovery.

And I’m sure you can all guess what that is… that’s right, sleep!

If you think back to the times you’ve come down with a cold or other illness, you probably remember being much sleepier than you normally are.

Well, I’m here to tell you that that feeling of increased drowsiness does not occur by chance!

And every time I see a patient in clinic with an illness, one of their parents’ biggest concerns is how much sleepier they are.

I tell parents that one of the best things they can do for their child during their illness is to LET THEM SLEEP!

Why you ask?

Well, keep reading to find out why sleep is my number one prescription for any illness.

What Happens to Your Immune System When You’re Sleeping?

The human body is quite amazing and intelligent when it comes to fighting off illness.

In order to really understand how this works, let’s start with an overview of how the body fights off infection.

How Does the Body Fight Infection?

When you have an infection, your body works to produce substances that will help fight that infection and prevent it from recurring.

To start, the main infection-fighting cells in your body are the white blood cells.

They recognize foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria and kill them.

And the way the body’s white blood cells know which cells to attack is through signaling that occurs via proteins known as cytokines.

These cytokines signal to the white blood cells that there is a foreign invader and helps to start a cascade of events that leads to an increased number of white blood cell production and their subsequent recognition of the foreign invaders.

Those infectious agents have what are known as antigens on their surfaces, which are like tags that alert the body’s immune system that there is a foreign invader that needs to be destroyed.

The body then responds by creating antibodies, types of white blood cells, that bind to that antigen and deliver it to cells that ingest and destroy it.

Those antibodies create a memory of those specific antigens and stick around the body in case that infection occurs again.

So why is this important?

Well, studies have shown that sleep creates a particularly enhancing environment that promotes the production of cytokines along with their interaction with white blood cells.

Meaning while you are sleep, the chances of your white blood cells finding, attaching to, and destroying infectious agents is a lot higher.

What’s even more powerful are the studies that have been conducted on the effect of sleep deprivation on the immune system.

A study published in SLEEP journal compared the immune repsonse to the Hepatitis B vaccine in sleep-deprived individuals vs those who got the recommended 7hrs or more of sleep per night.

And the findings were pretty interesting.

There were 125 people in the study in total, all non-smokers and all in relatively good health.

The participants were given the standard 3 dose hepatitis B vaccine series over a course of 6 months and measured the antibody response in each individual.

Participants who slept fewer than 6 hours per night were less likely to mount an appropriate antibody response and thus 11.5 more times unlikely to be protected by the vaccine than those who slept more than 7 hours per night.

Other studies have shown similar results in response to the flu vaccine.

And this study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that individuals who sleep on average less than 7hrs per night in weeks preceding exposure to rhinovirus (or the common cold virus) were almost 3 times as likely to develop the infection than those who slept longer than 7 hours.

So when you come down with an illness, one of the best things you can do to help your body naturally fight the infection is SLEEP!

And one of the best things you can do to help prevent infection is…. you guessed it, SLEEP!

So be sure to rest up, and for tips and tricks on how to improve your sleep, I recommend visiting my post 7 Tips to Ensuring a Good Night’s Sleep.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or leave them in the comments below

…. And as usual, happy sleeping!

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