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BEYOND LOCAL: Getting enough sleep could help fend off the flu

It's a simple factor many people do not think of

It’s something most of us can relate to: the struggle to get a good night’s sleep.

But sleep isn’t only key for feeling rested and rejuvenated the next day, it can also play a big factor in avoiding catching the flu, according to Copeland Healthcare medical director Dr. Nathan Thakur.

“What we know from medical studies is that when we don’t get enough sleep, our cortisol levels actually go up the next day and cortisol is a stress hormone… It’s actually an immune suppressant. It has a number of negative impacts in the body,” Thakur said. “We know from recent literature there’s about a 40 per cent increase [in cortisol levels] the next day if we deprive ourselves of sleep.”

So what happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

“You are going to run your body down more and you are far more likely to, unfortunately, get the flu or get another illness,” Thakur said.

There’s no surefire answer for how much sleep you should be getting every night. Every person is different.

According to Thakur, eight hours for an adult is a pretty safe bet and a bit less, between six to seven hours, for people over 50. Kids and teens, on the other hand, need more.

The quality of sleep is also important.

Thakur recommends a cool, calm, dark room with blackout blinds and that people avoid caffeine or sugary drinks after 4 p.m.

Another big factor is your cellphone, tablet or laptop.

“The phones act as a stimulant. The light stimulates our eyes and stimulates our cognitive receptors,” Thakur said. “It’s engaging you. It’s perking you up. These are very unhealthy environments for sleep.”

While this year’s flu season is almost over, the latest flu report from Alberta Health Services shows a 41 per cent increase in lab-confirmed flu cases in Calgary.

“I think all that shows is that flu is really unpredictable,” Dr. Jia Hu, the medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, said.


Even though we are late in the flu season, Hu still suggests getting your flu shot.

“We do know the best way of protecting yourself is by getting a flu shot,” Hu said.

The tried and true methods of flu prevention are also still important.

“The easiest things that we all know about are hand washing and, of course, when we’re coughing or sneezing, we’re not coughing into our hands but we’re coughing into our sleeves,” Thakur said.

“And the other piece that we should be vigilant of is how healthy we’re living. Sleep in itself improves our resiliency and allows us to have our best possible days.”

- Gloal News