Stephanie Speetzen FNP-BC,C | Align Medical Center
No matter where you sit on the COVID fence, you can and should do several things to stay healthy this holiday season. The holidays not only bring increased travel time but a plethora of stress to boot. When it comes to boosting your immune function, proper sleep and moderate alcohol consumption go a long way. Oh, and don’t forget to wash your darn hands!
Out of all the advice I give my patients, getting a good night’s sleep is priority number one. We often call this our “rest and digest” time, but I would also call attention to the reordering and restocking our bodies do while we sleep. Getting adequate sleep is associated with improved immune function. Besedovsky, Lange, and Born (2012) found that our immune cells go through a redistribution and replacement process while we’re getting those precious “zzz’s.” One might compare it to replenishing the ranks and filling in holes in your personal bug-fighting army.
Before you go overboard with the holiday cheers, do a count. Healthcare providers consider moderate alcohol consumption one drink per day for women and two for men (I know ladies, they truly get everything). But most of us push this upper limit with all the jovial toasting and have no idea how it might put us down for the count with more than a hangover. According to a review by Sarker, Phil, Jung, and Wang (2015), excessive drinking has a negative impact on both our microbiota’s communication pathways and the ability of immune cells to respond to the infectious matter in the gut. Furthermore, they report similar effects on the immune cells that line our respiratory system.
Washing your hands is by far one of the oldest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease. Before skipping the sink, consider that households that practice frequent handwashing have as high as a 53% decrease in childhood illnesses, specifically upper respiratory infections and diarrhea, the leading clinical syndrome of death in children (Luby, et al., 2005). In other words, do it for the kids.
All in all, seeing family and friends for the holidays is a joyous occasion but can also open the door to the inconvenience of illness. Ensuring that your body is getting the restorative rest and capping the number of nightcaps will keep your immunity tip top. In addition, thorough and consistent hand washing for the whole family decreases unnecessary disease exposure and could even save a life.