Updated: Jun 29, 2020
While the world’s attention is firmly fixed on ways to prevent exposure to the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2, there is an equally important health issue which requires immediate attention: the importance of a healthy immune system in combating viruses. A recent article in Bloomberg titled, “99% of Those Who Died From Virus Had Other Illness, Italy Says,” illustrates a point in the war against the coronavirus that is at times overlooked: the status of one’s immune system and overall health determines morbidity and mortality.
Our immune system has evolved to protect us against all viruses including coronaviruses. It is imperative, particularly at this time that we take all the necessary steps to support our children's immune system.
I begin with a comment about the importance of rest on the immune system.
If your child needed another reason to get a good night sleep, this might be it. Sleep plays a big role in how well your child's immune system functions. During sleep, your child's body produces cytokines which are molecules that help stimulate the immune system and improves the function of immune cells known as T cells. T cells are immune cells that identify and kills viruses.
This is why, people who do not get enough sleep take longer to fight off viral infections.
In a 2017 study, researchers took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns and found that the twin with the shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system.
Stress on the other hand, is harmful to the immune system: stress hormones like corticosteroids and other hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are released when a person is stressed inhibit the proper function of T cells.
How much sleep do children need?
While there are no hard and fast rules, the general consensus is that infants up to 12 months need 12-16 hours of sleep, toddlers need about 12 hours of sleep a night, children aged 3-6 need 10-12 hours of sleep and children 7 and older need about 10-11 hours. Unfortunately, many children do not get enough sleep according to the US Center of Disease Control.
Tips on how to ensure that your child gets enough sleep:
1. Try and put your child to sleep at the same time each night and to get them up at the same time each morning- this reinforces their circadian rhythm and tells their body when it’s time to snooze. It also ensures that sleep inducing melatonin is released by the brain at just the right time.
2. Follow a consistent, calming bedtime routine. This may include dinner/bottle, followed by bath time, then story time.
3. Put your baby to bed when he or she is sleepy but not yet asleep. Putting your child to bed while he or she is still awake lets them learn to fall asleep on their own. Remember to place your child on his or her back when putting him or her to sleep, up to one year of age.
4. Do not let your child nap too long or too late. Make sure that your child is awake from an afternoon nap by 4 pm.
5. Being quarantined is stressful, even on children. Remember that stress has a negative impact on your child's immune system. Take this important time to give your child plenty of love and affection- it does the body (and the immune system) good.
Until next time. Stay Well, Stay Healthy, Stay Well Rested,
Dr. Cascya Charlot
Adult and Pediatric Allergy & Immunology Specialist
The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.