MIchael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

One Trick to Dropping Covid Risk

Good quality sleep can boost your immune system’s T-cells to fight off infection.

VACCINATION IS ESSENTIAL TO LOWERING your risk of suffering severe illness associated with a COVID-19 infection. With that in mind, there is one risk-reducing maneuver that you may not think about: Adequate sleep can promote immune system function and lower your infection risk.

Our white blood cells, including T-cells, are central players in our immune response to infections (such as the flu) and cancer.

Did you know that the infection-fighting T-cells are better able to do their job if you get sufficient sleep?

Sleep: Are you getting enough?

Do you underestimate the importance of getting adequate sleep? The United States Centers for Disease Control offers that adults ages 18 to 60 years should get seven hours or more of sleep, while those 61 to 64 seven to nine hours. If you are 65 or older, the CDC points to 7 to 8 hours as optimal.

The Sleep Foundation points to five key elements to getting sufficient sleep:

  • A quiet environment. Consider calming sounds or music. Avoid loud, abrasive sounds.
  • A focus of attention. A word, phrase, mantra, breathing pattern, or mental image may draw your attention and reduce thinking about external issues.
  • A passive attitude. Accept that it is normal for your mind to wander.
  • A comfortable position.
  • A comfortable mattress.
Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

In addition, the Sleep Foundation suggests consideration of mindfulness practices such as meditation or controlled breathing. Here’s one option, known as the Andrew Weill 4–7–8 method:

  1. Place your tongue tip close to the ridge behind your front two teeth and hold it in this location throughout the breathing practice.
  2. Mouth closed, slowly inhale through your nose as you count to four.
  3. Hold your breath and count to seven.
  4. Open your mouth and exhale as you count to eight. Because of the location of your tongue, exhalation should cause a whooshing sound.
  5. Repeat this 4–7–8 cycle three more times.

Here are other suggestions for improving your sleep:What To Do When You Can’t Sleep | Sleep FoundationIf you’re one of the millions of Americans who struggle with insomnia, you may find your mind racing and your body…www.sleepfoundation.org.

Sleep and the immune system

As noted above, good quality sleep can boost your immune system’s T-cells to fight off infection. Sufficient sleep improves by enhancing the T-cells’ ability to adhere to and destroy cells infected by pathogens such as viruses.

To better understand how sleep improves our ability to stave off infection, in 2019, German researchers examined a group of molecules called “Gαs-coupled receptor agonists.” These substances can suppress the immune system. But how?

Photo by Marie-Michèle Bouchard on Unsplash

To better understand the relationship between sleep and immune system-suppressing Gαs-coupled receptor agonists, the scientists obtained samples from volunteers who had had a good night’s sleep.

They also got blood from a separate group that stayed up all night. Here are the findings:

T cells taken from the sleeping volunteers had much higher “integrin activation” levels than T cells obtained from the up-all-night group members. Put in more simple language, the T cells from the sleep group performed better at attacking cells infected with a virus.

Sleep can improve the efficiency of T-cell responses to infection and may also help lower the risks of chronic stress, aging, depression, etc. Get some good sleep; your well-rested pathogen-fighting T cells will thank you.

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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