You know how I feel about flu shots. So I won’t spend too much time today slamming the CDC’s annual campaign to get the American public vaccinated against a foe your body is perfectly capable of beating back by itself.
Instead, I’m going to cut right to the chase. And revisit my own personal protocol for year-long health that doesn’t require a jab in the arm:
- Eliminate sugar.
- Wash your hands regularly (with plain, old soap and water—NOT anti-bacterial soaps and gels).
- Supplement wisely. I wrote about my foolproof prescription for a healthy immune system in the December 2013 issue. If you don’t still have your copy, you can download it for free from the archives.
If this “secret” sounds simple, that’s because it is. I never get a flu shot. And I never get sick. Follow all three of these steps, and you won’t either.
But there is a catch. And it’s a big one, too…
None of it matters if you’re not getting enough sleep
Last December, I told you about a recent study showing that volunteers exposed to the cold virus were over four times more likely to get sick if they were sleep deprived. In fact, lack of sleep was the single biggest risk factor—topping even age, stress levels, and smoking status as an immune suppressant.1
So what exactly does sleep deprivation do to your body to make it so vulnerable? Well, science has a few theories.
Heightened inflammation is one smoking gun. Researchers at the University of Helsinki conducted a study on a group of healthy young men a few years back. Each subject slept only four hours nightly for five nights in a controlled setting.
Researchers took blood samples before and after the study to analyze changes in gene expression on white blood cells. And they noticed a few key trends.
One was an increase in B cell activity—immune cells that play a role in both antigen and allergy and asthma development. Another was a rise in inflammation-spiking interleukins, and their associated receptors. Finally, C-reactive protein—one of the most notorious inflammation markers—also shot up.2
Findings from similar research, published a year earlier in the journal Sleep, tell another side of the story. That study showed that sleep restriction led to negative changes in white blood cell populations—and more specifically, to a lower number of granulocytes.3 (The most common granulocytes, called neutrophils, are tasked with “eating” invaders in your body to get rid of them.)
And that’s not all a poor night’s sleep can do to your immune system…
Sleep loss wipes your immunological “memory,” too
I’ve mentioned before that good sleep habits are essential for your brain to form and store strong memories. This information consolidation takes place during the deepest cycle of sleep, called slow-wave sleep. So if you’re not getting quality rest every night, your memory is going to take a hit.
And as it turns out, the same may hold true for your immune system’s “memory” as well.4
Studies show, for example, that sleep restriction lowers your body’s responsiveness to vaccines—yielding fewer long-term antibodies, even a year later.5 But this same “memory-storing” process happens whenever you’re exposed to a new pathogen—be it from a vaccine or an actual virus.
Simply put, your body can’t properly develop long-term immunity if you don’t give it enough sleep. Leaving you vulnerable to the same illnesses, year after year.
So if you want your body to effectively fend off the flu, colds, and other viruses, you need to be clocking at least seven hours of sleep each night. (And keeping your circadian rhythms as steady as possible by avoiding late nights or early wake-ups.)
If you feel yourself getting sick, by all means, head to bed an hour earlier. And don’t think twice about reaching for a little extra help if you need it—particularly if insomnia is a chronic problem for you. As I’ve shared here before, there are a lot of effective alternatives to risky sleeping pills you can try.
Check out the sidebar to the left for a short list of my favorites. And give one or all of them a spot in your own personal immunity protocol, if necessary.
And be on the lookout for my brand new sleep protocol. I’m putting the finishing touches on it now, and will be releasing it in just a few weeks. It will include detailed, step-by-step advice for getting your sleep schedule back on track, to get the rest you—and your immune system—need.
Three supplements that can help you to get to sleep faster—and stay that way
Melatonin. This hormone helps control your sleep and wake cycles. I recommend as little as 1 mg and as much as (but no more than) 20 mg before bed, as necessary. (If you’re waking up groggy, you’ve taken too much.)
L-theanine. Stress is the enemy of quality sleep—but this is the same compound that makes a hot cup of tea so calming. A good choice before lights out. I recommend taking at least 100 mg.
Enzyme-treated asparagus stem extract (ETAS™). This recent breakthrough harnesses the power of heat shock proteins to promote deeper sleep. If you missed it, go back and read the June issue to find out why I’m so excited about this new ingredient. You’ll want to take 200 mg before bed.
- Prather AA, et al. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1;38(9):1353-9.
- Aho V, et al. PLoS One. 2013 Oct 23;8(10):e77184.
- Ackermann K, et al. Sleep. 2012 Jul 1;35(7):933-40.
- Westermann J, et al. Trends Neurosci. 2015 Oct;38(10):585-97.
- Lange T, et al. J Immunol. 2011 Jul 1;187(1):283-90.