If You're Trying to Boost Your Immune System, Ditch the Wellness Shots and Focus on Your Sleep

Getty / Adam Kuylenstierna / Adam Kuylenstierna / EyeEm

There are numerous products that tout immunity-boosting benefits, but the simple fact is: probiotics, vitamins, and antioxidants won’t suddenly up your body’s defense system fighting off inflammation and colds. There’s no denying that consuming more nutrient-dense foods – like walnuts, salmon, kale, and sweet potatoes – can help improve your overall health, but an instantaneous immunity boost is unlikely to occur. If you’re trying to strengthen your immune system, one thing you can do immediately is to ensure you’re getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night.

“There’s some data that short sleepers, people who sleep five hours per night, have an increased instance of pneumonia,” Atul Malhotra, MD, board-certified pulmonologist, intensivist, and research chief of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at the University of California San Diego, told POPSUGAR. Research has also shown that short sleepers who’ve received flu vaccinations have a delayed antibody response, which means they may be at risk for catching the flu compared to those who get adequate sleep and receive the flu vaccination, according to Dr. Malhotra. Simply put: “Our capacity to remain healthy is badly affected by loss of sleep and sense of comfort,” according to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology.

Related: I Spent $48 on a Sleep Mask, and It’s Better Than Sleeping With Blackout Curtains and Earplugs

Why Adequate Sleep Helps Strengthen Your Immune System

Although the mechanisms aren’t well-known when it comes to the connection between quality sleep and the immune system, Dr. Malhotra said sleep has a lot of healing effects that help people recover from things such as colds and injuries. Along with strengthening your immune system, getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night will enhance your overall mood and cognitive function. But if you aren’t getting adequate sleep, your cardiometabolic risks (heart attack, diabetes, and obesity, for example) along with the risk of pneumonia increase, according to Dr. Malhotra.

How to Improve Your Sleep

If you’re serious about improving your sleep and, as a result, strengthening your immune system, Dr. Malhotra recommends avoiding alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, irregular bedtimes, excessive time in bed (sleeping or lying awake), and excessive napping if you have sleep insomnia. For everyone else, Dr. Malhotra said to focus on the hours of sleep you’re getting – aim for at least seven hours a night. Creating a bedtime routine (and sticking to it), keeping the temperature of your room cooler (around 68 or 69 degrees Fahrenheit), avoiding eating heavy foods before bed, and minimizing the use of electronics in bed can also help improve your sleep and ultimately lead to a stronger immune system.

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