Study reveals the vital importance of sleep to fight coronavirus

In January, the National Institutes of Health in the US held a major international debate on the importance of sleep when it comes to the immune system. The immune system consists of several layers of protection against infection.

The first barrier is the skin, which with its tightly bound cells prevents bacteria or viruses entering the body.

While the skin has several layers of protection against bacteria and viruses, the outside infectious agents can enter the body through less protected areas.

Eyes, nose and lungs are less well-protected than the skin and can provide an entry point for the bacteria or viruses.

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Usually, antiseptic tears prevent infections entering the eyes, and the mucus membranes that line the nose and lungs produce mucus that traps infections.

Lungs have hair-like structures that move the mucus with the bugs in it to the upper airway, where it is then ejected through a cough or sneeze.

But if pathogens manage to enter the system, then the second layer of protection in the bloodstream identifies and fights them.

A key group of white blood cells, called B-lymphocytes, is triggered to produce antibodies, which attach themselves onto specific parts of the pathogen.

Then another group of white blood cells, called T-Cells, which are activated through chemical signals, kill the bugs.

After they have been triggered, some B-lymphocytes become “memory B-cells” and can remain in the body for years.

They “remember” how to feed off a specific pathogen and can produce antibodies very quickly should the immune system identify the same threat again.

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Vaccines work similarly; a non-infectious protein from the pathogen is introduced into the body via an injection, triggering the B-lymphocytes to produce antibodies, and memory B-cells then protect the body from another intrusion.

Meanwhile, other groups of white blood cells can trigger inflammation to tackle the bug.

These white blood cells identify the threat and activate plasma (the clear liquid part of blood) to move from blood vessels to the area where the pathogen is.

This fluid contains antibodies and other agents that will attack invading bacteria and viruses.

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Some of this fluid is also swept into the lymph nodes, where white blood cells kill the pathogens.

The plasma is then cleaned in the lymph nodes and sent back into the blood.

The so-called 24-hour body clock, called circadian rhythm, tells the brain when it is the appropriate time to sleep, eat, think and undertake essential biological tasks.

This daily exercise allows us to be in good physical state to perform activities.

It “fine-tunes” the body to the varied demands created by the 24-hour day/night cycle.

The skin becomes more “leaky” in the evening, meaning there is more water loss then, which is part of the reason we experience increased itchiness at night. This itchiness can increase the chance of pathogens entering the body through scratches or the humidity itself.

Blood flow to the skin increases at night, giving immune cells a better chance of tackling pathogens as soon as they enter the system.

Aditionally, skin cells tend to shed during the early part of the night, which means that invaders attached to the skin fall off.

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