7 Tricks to Staying Healthy Even Though You're Sleep-Deprived

woman with baby at night

Whether you have a new baby who's keeping you up at night or you've been working nonstop against a tight deadline, it's way too easy to find yourself ridiculously sleep-deprived. And if being so tired wasn't bad enough, chronically missing out on a full night's rest (typically seven to nine hours of Zs) can make you more likely to get sick.


It's true. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to the common cold virus were associated with lower resistance to illness.

Thankfully, even when you're not sleeping enough, you can take preventative measures to stave off a cold. Here, seven expert-approved tricks.

1. Take a quality probiotic. "Taking probiotics can boost immunity, especially for women who are experiencing periods of stress," says Susan Sloane, RPh, a registered pharmacist and educator. "During cold and flu season, environmental toxins and processed foods can throw off our delicate gut balance, causing an overabundance of unfriendly bacteria. Probiotics can help restore the vital good bacteria in our guts, making it more difficult for bad bacteria to survive."

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that athletes who took a probiotic (vs. a placebo) had about 40 percent fewer colds and GI infections.

Sloane recommends taking a supplement that includes a probiotic and prebiotic -- which she calls the "food" that nourish probiotics and ensure colonies of good bacteria are thriving.

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2. Get your vitamin C. While vitamin C has been touted for years as the ultimate vitamin for guarding against sickness, current research on C actually preventing illness is mixed. But there's no arguing that it does bolster the immune system -- and it may reduce the duration of a cold, if you've been taking it preventatively or take it immediately at the onset. And according to the Mayo Clinic, C could be especially helpful for people who are at high risk of catching a cold due to frequent exposure -- like parents and kids!

You can supplement with a 200 mg supplement or get it in its natural form by eating five servings of vegetables and fruits a day.

3. Take vitamin D, too. One reason we may be more susceptible to colds and flu in the winter months is because we're getting less sun exposure and thus, less vitamin D. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that adults with low vitamin D levels were more likely to have had a recent cough, cold, or upper respiratory tract infection.

For this reason, you'll do well to get your D levels tested and discuss taking a supplement with your doctor. The recommended daily allowance for everyone ages 1 to 70 is 600 IU of vitamin D. The dosing may be higher for people who are deficient -- and your doctor may recommend you take more D in the fall and winter too.

4. Eat more greens. Broccoli is a valuable source of the antioxidant selenium, which contributes to an optimal immune response. Spinach provides vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant. You can get that much-needed vitamin C from kale.

We get that if you're sleep-deprived and strugging with a hectic schedule, you're eating on the go and less likley to take in these quality leafy greens. The solution: "If you are not finding time to eat well, drink your veggies!" suggests Margaret Romero, NP-C, a board-certified nurse practitioner. Head to your local juice bar or buy bottled veggie smoothies at the grocery store and drink up.

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5. Cut back on sugar. Missing out on those Zs actually affects the brain in a way that makes you more likely to help yourself to the candy bowl at the office, dive into that pizza, or drink sugary soda. But do your best not to cave.

"Staying away from sugar is a must," Romero notes. The harsh truth is that it messes with your ability to stay healthy. Research shows sugar inhibits phagocytosis, the process by which viruses and bacteria are defeated by white blood cells.

6. Practice self-care. Sleep-deprivation and stress go hand in hand. That's why licensed marriage and family therapist Michelle Coomes implores women to make time to take care of themselves.

"Self-care doesn't have to mean luxurious bubble baths, mani-pedis, or wine night with your girlfriends," she explains. It could simply mean taking a nap or making sure you have a nutritious breakfast, Coomes explains. "Hand over some responsibilities to your spouse, call in a playdate favor, call the grandparents or babysitter when you need some down time," she says. "Decreasing stress and incorporating time management skills can go a long way in staving off illness."

7. Get some light exercise. Squeezing in a workout may be the last thing you want to do when you're sleep-deprived, but it'll boost endorphins to improve your mood and also help you guard against a cold. Research comparing sedentary people and walkers found non-exercisers took more sick time than those who were going for regular walks. This may be because aerobic exercise boosts white blood cell circulation.


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