Sleep Your Colds and Flus Away!
100 years ago this year, our nation found itself in the midst of “the greatest medical holocaust in history,” as it was called at the time. It was the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918, so-called because King Alonzo XIII of Spain was the most notable person to come down with it. That flu outbreak ultimately claimed over 40 million lives, and remains the worst ever to hit the United States.
Thankfully, the current flu epidemic facing the U.S. isn’t as bad, but it has killed 37 children to date. And even if you’re not among the unfortunate families to get the flu, we all know that the common cold can also be really unpleasant. More importantly, they both can be very hard to sleep with!
Though fluids and bed rest remain the preferred treatment for colds and flus, getting that rest is tough if you don’t have the right tools. What can you and your family do to beat a cold or flu? Are they really any different? And how can you battle either by getting your best sleep? Read on.
So What Are Colds and Flus Anyway?
Both colds and flus are caused by viral infections that affect your nose and throat. They occur when one of these infections penetrates our regular layer of mucus in our noses that goes down to our lungs. That’s right – we have mucus in our upper respiratory system all the time. We usually just swallow it and don’t even notice.
Mucus serves as a barrier to protect us from infections. When the body does get infected, it needs time to fight the illness without having to worry about more germs getting through. To do that it creates more mucus to block the invaders off, which unfortunately blocks off our nasal passages too. This is what creates the runny nose and congestions we all know when we get colds or flus. And it’s also why they can be such a nuisance – breathing can be difficult when you sleep as it is. Sleeping with extra mucus all up in your sinuses can be an absolute nightmare!
Quick Facts about Colds and Flus
As the old wives’ tale goes, “feed a cold and starve a fever.” But if you’re not an old wife, you may be looking for a little more than that. (And that’s not great advice anyway. Again, read on.) Since the key to solving any problem is to define it first, let’s get to know the enemy a bit better. Here are some interesting facts about these two potentially dangerous ailments to get you ready to fight back and sleep your cold or flu away!
- The flu specifically come from the influenza virus, while the common cold comes from any number of different viruses that have the ability to cause it. Both affect the nose and throat, but the flu affects the lungs too.
- Though symptoms of a cold and flu are similar, runny or stuffy noses are more common with colds. Fevers are more common with flus, and flu symptoms are generally more intense. (Phlegm, the substance you may cough up, is most common with bronchitis or pneumonia, which a flu can turn into. But that’s a topic for another blog!)
- Colds rarely lead to hospitalizations or more serious consequences, while flus can be fatal. If you think you have a serious flu, getting a professional diagnosis is crucial. This should be done through medical testing within the first few days to catch it in time!
- Starving colds or flus is not healthy. The body gets the energy it needs to fight illness from food, so it’s actually helpful to get as many healthy calories as you can tolerate (illness often leads to vomiting and loss of appetite) when you have a cold or the flu.
- Fluids are also vitally important, both for keeping your body nourished during its internal battle and to prevent dehydration from the flu. The act of washing your hands frequently when fluids make you go to the bathroom also eliminates dead germs and flushes out your system.
- Garlic, beef, sweet potatoes, turmeric, dark leafy greens, wild salmon, and chicken soup are the best foods to eat while battling colds or flus.
So with both fluids and diet out of the way, that leaves us with the all-important second recommendation by most doctors: bed rest. Let’s look at why bed rest is so important to recovering from a cold or the flu.
The Benefits of Bed Rest
Well the obvious reason not to be out and about when you’re sick is to avoid spreading your illness to everyone you meet! More than that though, bed rest gives your body a break from doing anything else besides recovering. One of the reasons for the original “starving” recommendation was because 16th Century doctors believed that forcing your body to digest food took away from the energy it needed to fight the flu. (Apparently they didn’t totally get the connection between food and energy back then.)
Nowadays we know better, and understand that while you’re lying down, the blood flowing through your body doesn’t have to fight gravity. This allows it to easily circulate throughout your body and fight the illness. Also, strenuous activities like working or even exercising can cause your body to release stress hormones. These hormones are known to affect the function of white blood cells, which are what your body uses to fight back. Long story short, you’re better off in bed when you have a cold or the flu.
How to Get Your Best Sleep When You Have a Cold or the Flu
So by this point, it should be clear that fluids and bed rest are – and probably always will be – the best remedy for a cold or the flu. That said, if you’re one of the unlucky ones to have gotten them this year, here are ten ways to speed up your recovery:
Use a gadget: The basic principle of all cold and flu remedies is to try to breathe as well as you possibly can. This is because if you remember, the actual fighting of the infection comes from your body – that’s why it creates mucus. By clogging you up, no new infections get through, and the body can do its thing. Only one problem with this plan: you still have to breathe!
That’s why one way to sleep better with a cold is to use a gadget that helps make breathing easier. A humidifier or a vaporizer puts moisture into the air, and can help with this process. Not only will they create steam that naturally loosens you up (more on this shortly), but they’ll soothe your irritated nose and throat, making it easier to sleep.
Drink or eat something hot: If fluids and bed rest are what the doctor ordered, it should be obvious why soup or tea are good options for sleeping and speeding up recovery. Again, the steam they create will help open your sinuses and soothe your throat. Tea with honey is especially soothing, and warm milk before bed is a tried and true method of getting your best sleep. And it’s even more so when you’re sick.
Make sure you read labels on cold and flu remedies: Often people’s first impulse when they catch something, over-the-counter cold remedies can be tricky if you’re not careful. A decongestant, for example, may keep you awake, while an antihistamine will make you drowsy. Many cold remedies claim to treat everything, and most of these can be too harsh for children. What to do?
Remember that colds and flus are different, so it’s easier if you know what you have. A doctor might prescribe something that targets your exact illness, like an antibiotic. If that’s not in your budget, just keep track of your symptoms and try to pick medicines that specifically treat whatever your problems are. If you don’t have a fever, you can get something just for runny nose. If you have a persistent cough, a simple cough syrup may do. Above all else, read the medication’s label. No need to use a bazooka if you just need a flyswatter!
Gargle: If you have a sore throat, gargling with warm salt water before bed should loosen it up some and help you get to sleep. Be careful though! If sore throat is your only real symptom (meaning no congestion or sneezing), you likely have the flu. If this leads to a fever that lasts for more than two days, see a doctor. You may have a strep infection or worse.
Use a salve for coughs: You can also rub a menthol salve over your throat and chest to ease any cough you might have. As long as you don’t eat it, put it inside your nose, or use it for children under two years old, it can be helpful.
Don’t drink alcohol: While it is true that alcohol makes you drowsy, it’s also true that it dries you out. It swells your sinuses more too, can react badly with cold and flu medicines, and most importantly, wakes you up in the middle of the night. Use it to celebrate once you’re well, not to get to sleep when you’re not.
Sleep alone: Though a Lull mattress allows you to get in and out of bed without disturbing your partner, it doesn’t cancel noise. If you want to keep sleeping with someone else, it’s best not to cough, blow your nose, or give them what you’ve got in bed.
Use nasal strips: Easier on your neck than propping your head up with pillows, nasal strips open your passageway to make breathing easier. Again, the more air you can get to breathe with, the less bothersome all that extra mucus will be.
Maintain your usual sleep schedule: The classics always work! Though you may be tempted to sleep in more or go to bed too early, this can throw you off and make it difficult to sleep through the night when you need to. Not only will eating and sleeping as usual help you recover, but it can prevent your next cold too. In one study, people getting less than eight hours of sleep nightly were three times more likely to catch colds and flus. As long as you limit your activity and maybe nap briefly throughout the day, you should be able to get well without ruining your regular sleep.
Make sure you have the best mattress: The benefits of having a high quality mattress are well-documented. Generally speaking, a premium gel-infused memory foam mattress like the ones offered by Lull are designed to relieve pressure and maintain a comfortable sleeping temperature. This is crucial if you’re dealing with added aches and pains or burning up with fever. You can order this online mattress from the web, and it sets itself up when it arrives. Hence its nickname of “a bed in a box.” If you’re sick, you don’t need the stress of putting a box spring together. You want to get to sleep as soon as you can, and the Lull mattress allows you to do that.
Bottom line, having a cold or the flu is no joke! And if every doctor agrees that fluids and bed rest are the way to go, why fight centuries of medical knowledge? Clear out your sinuses with these tips, pop onto your best mattress and feel better. You’ll thank us in the morning!