Cold and flu season is creeping up on us, and most people aren’t ready for it. Are you? According to some research, flu seasons tend to get worse over time. How can this be? Because viruses adapt. They get “smarter.” They learn to break through our defenses. And, those that never got the flu, dodged a bullet but may become victims of a stronger virus. So, if you haven’t gotten it in a while, here’s what you might be doing to set yourself up for disaster.
Staying Up Too Late
Staying up too late throws off your circadian rhythm – your sleep-wake cycle. Hormones drive this system along with the light from the sun. It’s true. Blue light, or high energy (short wavelength) light, helps suppress melatonin – the hormone that’s responsible for sleep, recovery, and repair. Likewise, cortisol, the stress hormone, wakes us in the morning and helps us prepare for the day.
If you change your sleep-wake cycle, you’re messing up your hormones, and that can mess with your body’s ability to fight off infection because your body’s ability to recover is compromised.
Try to hit the hay when the sun goes down or at least by 10PM. If you find it difficult to get to sleep this early, try a pair of blueblocker sunglasses. They block blue light – the same light shown to disrupt melatonin production and cause insomnia in studies.
Sources of blue light at night include your electronics like T.V., iPads, iPhones, and any other backlit screen. Fluorescent lighting also emits blue light.
You can also try experimenting with supplemental melatonin to see if a small dose helps you get to sleep faster. Many people report improved sleep from this supplement, but its long-term safety is unknown. Still, it might be helpful to help “reset” your circadian rhythm in the short-term.
Bad diet can be a major contributor to your risk of getting nasty cold or flu. Bad diets are lacking in important nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and potassium. You need all of these things for a strong immune system. You also need vitamin D, and most people are deficient or insufficient in it. If you don’t get outside into the sun for at least 15 minutes every day, you may be deficient.
Even if you do, you have to expose at least 70 percent of your body during a high UV index time period. In general, your shadow must be shorter than you are tall. This is a good rule of thumb to follow to determine if the sun is high enough in the sky for ultraviolet B light to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere (allowing your skin to convert cholesterol to previtamin D).
Eating more fruits, vegetables, and getting good-quality meats in your diet will help you improve your nutritional status. Shoot for at least 8 cups of veggies and fruit every day. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. But, right now, you’re consuming a lot of empty calories and that’s not helping you either.
Smoking is immunosuppressive. Stop it. Seriously, smoking contains a lot of chemicals that are known carcinogens. You’re more susceptible to respiratory infections. Quitting will help you beef up your body’s natural defenses.
Many drugs are also immunosuppressive. If you’re having trouble battling alcohol or drug addition, you might want to try a different approach to drug and alcohol addiction treatment that focuses on positive action-oriented methods. This is for your health.
You Dehydrate Yourself
If you don’t drink enough water, and you don’t get enough electrolytes, then you’re creating the perfect recipe for dehydration. You’re also making it easier to contract a cold or flu.
Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water, and get enough salt and other minerals so that you stay hydrated. Focus on salt, potassium, and magnesium, as these are the major electrolytes. But, don’t forget calcium, as this is also important.
Kevin Martel loves being a physician’s assistant. With a heart for working closely with patients, he often blogs about the simple ways to improve daily health.