I’ve been invited to a few Christmas parties this year, and I have to admit I’ve hesitated about whether to attend…
One the one hand, it feels like ages since we’ve had the chance to get dressed up, pop open some prosecco, catch up with friends, eat copious mince pies, and let it loose on the dance floor.. On the other hand, the fear of bringing a sniffle - or worse - back home, is a growing concern. After last year, I don’t want to jeopardise a long awaited family Christmas.
Fortunately, there is plenty we can all do to manage the risks, and still celebrate in style! We’re all very familiar with washing hands and wearing masks, but enabling your immune system to do its best work could help to give you an extra level of protection.
How? Protect your sleep. Sleep is when the immune system really goes to work. A growing body of evidence shows that sleep loss increases your risk of viral infection. Short sleep interferes with the activity of T cells, which recognise foreign invaders, and integrins which help T cells to kill virus infected cells.
Here are 5 strategies to enjoy the party season, and still protect a healthy immune system:
1. Bank Sleep in Advance
If you know you’ve got a big night coming up, plan ahead by going to bed a little earlier for up to a week before the event. Researchers have found that sleep ‘banking’ by extending time in bed in advance can help you recover faster from sleep deprivation. It’s not clear exactly how much sleep you need to bank, but if you’re not routinely getting the recommended 7+ hours of sleep, that would be a good minimum to aim for.
2. Be Well Rested on Vaccination Day
If you have a flu or covid vaccination booked, try to arrive well rested. In one study which looked at the effectiveness of Hepatitis B vaccine, people who slept fewer than 6 hours per night produced fewer antibodies than those those slept more than 7 hours. The sub 6 hour sleepers were 10 times more likely to be unprotected by the vaccine. Research into the covid vaccine and sleep is ongoing, but it is possible that sleep deprivation could alter its effectiveness.
3. Night Cap? Avoid the Espresso Martini
Drinking alcohol regularly or to excess can directly interfere with the immune system, as well as disrupting sleep quality. Alcohol can damage the immune cells and fine hairs in the airways that have usual clear foreign pathogens, including viral cells. Alcohol can also trigger inflammation in the gut and destroy the healthy bacteria that support the immune response. If you do decide to drink alcohol, avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Reduce consumption by alternating with non-alcoholic drinks, or stopping drinking a few hours before bed.
4. Be Cool
My first instinct when it’s icy outside is to crank up the heating, but think twice about full on heating in the bedroom. Your body uses a drop in temperature as a cue to get into deep sleep. Keeping your bedroom slightly cooler than the rest of your home could help with a more restful sleep.
5. Stick to Your Routine
It sounds counterintuitive, but try to avoid sleeping in all day the night after the party. By all means have a bit of a lie in to catch up if it’s the weekend, but just be aware that the later you sleep in, the more difficult it will be to get out of bed the next day. Maintaining similar wake up times can help your body clocks to stay in sync. Aim to keep day to day changes to within an hour as often as you can, and consider a short nap after lunch if you’re sleepy during the day.