The last time I was sick, I remember waking up from the sounds of the kids in the house and wondering how I managed to sleep from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I knew I didn’t feel well, but why does our bodies put us to sleep when we are sick? I found some pretty scientific reasons that I would love to share with you!
You sleep more when you are sick because your body uses this time to focus on eliminating what is making you sick. During sleep, your body releases hormones that repair your tissues and increases white blood cell production to fight infections.
While researching this, I found an article that claimed you were three times less likely to get the common cold if you slept eight hours a night. I do not remember where that war, if you find it, let me know in the comments.
Why is Sleep Important When we are Sick?
Sleep is more than just closing your eyes and dreaming about that vacation, new partner or other randomness. Your body is actually pretty productive during sleep! The brain does its thing by using this time to do a little good housekeeping while you are conked out.
One of the things your body does when you are asleep is to increase the presence of white blood cells to help fight any potential viral, or bacterial infections. Think of it as a preemptive strike on foreign invaders before it gets out of control.
When you are sick, your body wants to divert as much resources as it can to getting rid of the viruses and bacteria. This is why you want to sleep and you should listen when it tells you to sleep.
A constant need to sleep can also show an unforeseen illness or disease that may not have been detected yet. If you are constantly feeling tired after a good nights sleep, it is time to have a conversation with your doctor. Your body may be telling you something.
Can You Oversleep When You Are Sick?
No, you cannot oversleep if you are sick. As long as you are not sleeping for an extra long period and not staying hydrated. Staying in bed for a few extra hours, or taking that extra nap during the day is fine and not unhealthy for you. Sleeping for 24 hours or more can create some problems and probably not what you think.
Sleeping for a really long and extended amount of time can actually prevent you from getting better. Actually staying asleep that long means you are not hydrating yourself, eating any nutrients or taking medications. Hopefully you aren’t using the bathroom as well while you are asleep, that could become another problem altogether!
Odd are, you are sleeping for slightly longer than usual, then waking up to eat or drink, handle your business, then back to sleep. This is different than just one hardcore long 12 – 18 hour sleep cycle that you do not awake from.
How Much Sleep Should I Get When I am Sick?
When you are sick, your body needs time to get better. It does this during sleep when it can focus on eradicating whatever ails you.
About 7 to 9 hours of sleep is optimal for sleep when you are sick. You can go back to sleep after the 7 to 9 hours, but make sure you grab some water, food and/or medication before you do.
As I have talked about it previous posts, your brain goes through different stages of sleep. Even during a sickness, this does not change the way your brain and body react to sleep. During these stages your brain releases chemicals and hormones that tell your body to increase its white blood cells, store energy and repair damaged tissues. These processes are great for you when you get sick. Letting your body do its thing is a great way to get better naturally.
It has been reported that people that get 7 – 8 hours of sleep, on a regular basis, they get sick less than other people. Just saying.
Why Do You Feel Worse at Night When Sick?
Many people complain that while they do not feel well during the day, and they feel even worse at night when they are trying to sleep. If you are pregnant, then that is an entirely different reason and will not be covered here. I want to cover the basic overall reasons that do not deal with pregnancy and other medical conditions that make you feel worse when sleeping while sick.
Our circadian rhythm, the 24 hour cycle our body is on, continues to kick into gear regardless of your health status. Your hormones go up and down depending on this rhythm, and for this specific question, the answer is found in the cortisol hormone.
Cortisol is one of the major chemicals that helps your body fight infections and inflammations. During daylight hours, when you are most active, suppresses your immune system and is less active in fighting the infections. At night, cortisol levels go down and your immune system is ready for battle. When your immune system kick into gear, you feel the side effects of the illness most during these times.
It is believed that cortisol levels are increased in order to help your immune system “prepare” for the fight against the foreign invaders. At night, T-Cells get released and are sort of like the Commanders of the white blood cells and throws everything into action.
T-Cells are a very interesting subject to talk about, but it is beyond the scope of this topic. A google search should find some really interest articles from some really smart people.
Can You Get Sick From Lack of Sleep?
Yes, yes you can. There is plenty of evidence to back this claim up as well! Lack of sleep plays havoc on your immune system. During sleep, your body releases hormones that helps to fight infections, big and small, while you sleep. It is the perfect time since the body can focus on that instead of walking, thinking, moving around, etc.
When asleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines when there is an infection to help fight it. If you are sleep deprived, stressed out or have an irregular sleep pattern, these proteins decrease and leave you at risk for infections.
In order to have your body performing at optimal levels when fighting infections, you need a good nights sleep of at least 7 to 9 hours a night. Not only is it refreshing to get a great nights sleep, you will also use that downtime to fight off viruses and bacteria you come in contact with that you never knew you contracted. Pretty cool, huh?
You sleep a lot when you are sick because your body is using this time to fight infections. During sleep, your body regulates the release of hormones and proteins that fight off these infections, most of the time, before you know you have them. Having a good nights sleep, on a regular basis, helps regulate this process so it is running at optimal levels.
So get some sleep. Enjoy it. Make it a priority. If the kids keep you up late, set a bed time. Spouse not wanting to go to bed, go without them. Get some sleep, its good for you!