When you detect the slightest tickle in your throat or congestion in your nasal passage, your first instinct might be to run to the drugstore and stock up on cough sweets, or maybe run home to experiment with holistic DIY remedies. But before you chew on a piece of raw garlic (some people swear that works), there's one "all natural," cold "cure" that you absolutely shouldn't skip: sleep.
There's solid scientific evidence that points to the importance of good sleep for the immune system, says Camilo A. Ruiz, DO, FACOI, medical director at Choice Physicians Sleep Center in South Florida. Studies on animals suggest that when they're sleep deprived, they tend to be more susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections. "What they find is these animals cannot fight these infections as well as the ones that had adequate sleep time," he says. On the flip side, when you're already sick, the best thing you can do for your body is sleep.
Rest is important when you're sick, because your body needs adequate time to recover from the virus itself, Dr. Ruiz says. "If the body is under stress, the last thing you want to do is continue to stress itself out with other things," he says. "You want to allow for the virus to clear, and for homeostasis to come back, and hopefully recover from it." Sleep may not automatically speed up this process, but it will allow your body to do the job.
On top of that, we know that infections can act on certain parts of the brain that have to do with alertness and awakening, Dr. Ruiz says. "Some people even tell you, When I get cold I feel more sleepy," he says. So, not only is your body working hard to fight the infection, which is fatiguing, but you're also sleepier by nature of having a virus, he says. And if you happen to be taking a cold medication that makes you drowsy, well, that's a triple threat of sleepiness.
All of this is to say that you should really just try to go to sleep when you're sick. If you can take a sick day off of work or school, do it. On said sick day, instead of binge-watching Netflix, or anxiously checking your email, just go to sleep. If you're having trouble sleeping because of your congestion and sore throat, consider getting a humidifier, which can help lubricate your nasal passages. While there's no amount of sleep that you could "prescribe" to cure a virus, it's safe to say that you'll be better off having rested than not. So, sweet, healthy, dreams!