Cold and flu season has arrived. As you look at the list of ways to prevent illness you’ll likely check off hand washing, eating well and exercise, but have you taken a good look at how lack of sleep may be affecting your family’s health?
Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep affects the immune system. We know that both poor quality seep and not enough total hours of slumber lead to a greater likelihood of catching a cold after being exposed to one. Recovery time is also longer if your sleep needs are not being met while you are sick.
The job or our immune system is to protect us from colds and flu. When it is not functioning properly, it fails to do its job. When we are sleep deprived our T-cells, the body’s first line of defense, decrease and leave us vulnerable to viruses and infection. Restorative sleep also leads to the release of proteins called cytokines. When we have infection or inflammation or when we’re under stress, the body needs to increase the production of these protective cytokines. Sleep deprivation causes the production of protective cytokines to decrease.
If you’re tired of being sick, chances are you need to get more sleep. What can you do to keep your family’s immune systems running at full capacity this cold and flu season?
- Be sure each member of your family is getting enough sleep. Babies from 3-12 months old need 14-15 hours of sleep a day. From one year to pre-school age, babies and toddlers need 12-13 hours of sleep. Kids in school need an average of 10 hours. Teenagers need 9-10 hours and adults 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- Promote sleep hygiene for the whole family. Sleep hygiene takes on the form of a calming bedtime routine done with a parent for babies and children. The bedtime routine may include a bath, cuddling, reading a book and singing a song. As children become older, it may include some time to wind down prior to bed with quiet play or activities that aren’t over stimulating. Adults should choose a time when they will shut everything down and focus on going to sleep, beginning with a calming pre-bed routine. Reducing screen time in the evening hours is important for all family members. Going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning helps the body establish a regular pattern of sleeping and waking each day.
- Make your bedrooms sleep sanctuaries. Ensure that each family member’s bedroom is very dark, quiet and slightly cooler than room temperature. Remove clutter from bedrooms by minimizing toys, TV’s, work and other distractions.
- Pay back sleep debt caused by illness or to prevent illness. When we are not getting enough good quality sleep our body incurs a sleep debt. Just as we would have to repay money to a bank we need to repay this debt by getting more sleep. In order to recover from sleep debt we must look at our body’s basal sleep need (the number of hours we need on a normal basis) as well as additional hours needed to catch up. An earlier bedtime is needed for all members of the family to repay a sleep debt.
- Make healthy sleep a priority for all members of the family. If your children are old enough to understand, call a family meeting to talk about the importance of sleep to staying healthy. Create positive associations around sleep. Make bedtime routines special times to connect as a family. Model healthy sleep behaviours and once children are sleeping well, make your own sleep a priority.