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Here’s Why You Feel so Sleepy When You’re Sick

If you’ve ever slept your way through an illness, or had a hard time staying awake through a cold or flu, researchers believe they’ve found the reason why your body craves shut-eye while you’re down. Working with over 12,000 lines of fruit flies, researchers discovered that a single gene works to induce sleep in a sick body.


“[O]ur study directly links sleep to the immune system and provides a potential explanation for how sleep increases during sickness," Amita Sehgal, one of the researchers, told NDTV.

On the flip side, just like sleep can help you get well, insufficient sleep has been linked to making you sick. From cancer to diabetes, to heart problems to pain and a variety of other health conditions, science shows that lack of sleep can play a huge part in both getting sick and how fast — or not — you’ll get better. Unfortunately, the importance of sleep is widely ignored, especially in the US where working around the clock is still glorified.

The cost is rarely considered, even though it actually includes reduced work productivity and an increased risk of serious accidents. What’s worse is that going just one night without proper sleep starts to impair your physical movements and mental focus right away, similar to being drunk.

Sleeping well is also important for maintaining emotional balance. Fatigue compromises your brain's ability to regulate emotions, making you more prone to crankiness, anxiety, and unwarranted emotional outbursts.

Recent research also shows that when you haven't slept well, you're more apt to overreact to neutral events; you may feel provoked when no provocation actually exists, and you may lose your ability to sort out the unimportant from the important, which can result in bias and poor judgment.

If you’re wondering how much sleep you need to keep healthy, studies show that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night — in other words, the classic eight, give or take an hour, depending on your personal body’s needs.

The good news is there are many ways to improve your odds of sleeping well, even if you're currently struggling. Here are a few:

1. Sleep in complete darkness, or as near to total darkness as possible

2. Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F.

3. Conquer sound pollution by making sure it’s quiet — or wear earplugs

4. Put all your electronics away a minimum of one hour before bed

5. Turn off your cellphone and keep it out of your bedroom

6. Establish a bedtime routine that “primes” your body for sleep

7. Get a dose of full sun during the day and then use blue-blocking glasses at night

8. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed

9. Exercise regularly

If you still have trouble falling asleep, try this technique developed for the U.S. military, which has a 96 percent success rate after six weeks of consistent implementation:

The method centers around preparing your mind and body for sleep by deeply relaxing for about two minutes.

1. Relax your whole face, including your tongue, jaw and the muscles around your eyes

2. Drop your shoulders and relax your arms

3. Relax your chest as you breathe out

4. Relax your legs, from your thighs to your feet

5. Relax and clear your mind, then picture yourself in one of the following scenarios:

a. You’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but blue sky above you

b. You’re snuggled in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room

c. Simply repeat “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” for 10 seconds

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