The wonder of winter brings many magical things – the holidays, cozy nights at home reading in bed, pristine snowfall, crisp air, nourishing foods and warming drinks. Unfortunately, it also brings the dreaded cold and flu season. If you're anything like us, you find being sick, whether it's a nagging cold or a full-blown flu, just miserable!
Although the COVID pandemic has thrown seasonal flu cycles off track a bit, cold and flu season in the U.S. typically peaks from December to February. That means we’re right smack in the middle of it, making this the perfect time to focus on your immune health to combat getting sick.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy a warehouse full of supplements or make drastic lifestyle changes. Luckily, there are some effective and easy natural ways you can boost your immune system this cold and flu season. Keep reading to find out how to stay strong and healthy this winter!
Why do we get sick in winter?
For starters, in many places winter brings frigid temperatures, rain and snowfall, and gray skies. Understandably, people spend more time indoors in enclosed spaces and close quarters with each other … which pretty much describes an ideal setting for germs spreading.
Making matters worse, the drier winter air means that viruses and bacteria linger in the air longer, allowing them to circulate more easily. You may not miss summer’s humidity when it comes to your hair, but lack of humidity and forced air from furnaces can also dry out your mucous membranes, which makes them less capable of doing their job.
Additionally, the lack of natural sunlight exposure can severely impact our immune systems. We need natural vitamin D from the sun for a healthy immune system.
Let’s be honest – winter can bring bad habits
With all of the holidays that fall within the winter months, there’s no shortage of indulgences. It’s not uncommon to consume more sweets, sugar, junk foods and alcohol during this time of year. This can negatively impact sleep and the immune system. Beyond the holidays, the cold winter months leave many people:
- Eating heavy, starchy comfort foods
- Opting for easy processed snacks over fresh fruits and veggies
- Exercising less often and sometimes not at all
Sleep: a natural immune system booster
The truth is, it doesn’t matter how healthy you eat, how much you exercise, what supplements you take – if you aren’t getting quality sleep each night, you’re vulnerable to getting sick. Sleep is the foundation for immune health (and health in general).
During sleep, the body and brain get rid of toxins and produce specific antibodies and infection-fighting cells. When we are sleep deprived, we deplete our T-cells which are a critical immune cell. This causes inflammatory cells to increase and immune function to decrease. If you want to boost your immune system this cold and flu season, step one is ensuring you’re getting restorative sleep – and enough of it.
Boost your sleep hygiene to boost your immune system
Adults should make sure they are getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. A clear path to better sleep is better sleep hygiene. Try the following sleep hygiene adjustments:
Reduce blue light exposure
Artificial blue light decreases melatonin (an essential hormone for sleep) and interferes with your natural circadian rhythm. Limiting screen time and reducing exposure to blue light emitted from your phone, TV, laptop, tablet and more can improve your sleep. If you do still need to look at a screen once the sun sets, try investing in a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Create a healthy environment for rest
We’re passionate about healthy sleep and believe that includes and organic, non-toxic mattress and bedding. This reduces the amount of harmful toxins in your environment. A healthy sleep-inducing environment should also be quiet, dark and cool. Studies show the best temperature for sleeping is around 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Limit caffeine and alcohol
Consuming too much caffeine or having it too late in the day can throw off your ability to fall asleep at night. While a glass of natural wine or a cocktail may be nice occasionally, alcohol consumption can actually interfere with sleep architecture – the different phases of our sleep cycle – and suppress REM (rapid eye movement). Alcohol acts as a stimulant once it’s metabolized and may leave you waking with an increased heart rate, too.
Healthy circadian rhythms and sleep cycles are maintained by being consistent in your sleep schedule and generally going to bed and rising at the same times. It’s not always possible but do your best.
6 Natural ways to boost your immune system
In addition to improving your sleep, there are other natural ways you can boost your immune system effectively this cold and flu season:
1. Eat and drink well
Eating plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables, bone broths, herbal teas, soups, stews, animal protein and healthy fats can help boost your immune system.
2. Get outside and be active
Bundle up and go on a brisk walk! If the weather is truly terrible, try exercising in other ways at home or at a gym. Movement is essential to keeping the lymphatic system flowing.
3. Wash your hands
Seriously – wash them a lot! Hygiene is always essential. Making sure you keep hands clean with a non-toxic soap or spray will help reduce the spread of germs.
4. Soak up the sun
Even in the cold, sun exposure is a must. Getting a few minutes of natural sun exposure in each morning can boost your immune system, mental health and circadian rhythm for better sleep.
5. Sweat in a sauna
There’s nothing better than a hot, toasty sauna in the dead of winter! Incorporating this practice into your winter wellness will help keep your body detoxed and immune system healthy.
6. Try supplements
While supplement regimens are personal and you should always consult your healthcare provider, certain supplements like vitamin C, vitamin D3 & K2, zinc, colostrum, probiotics, magnesium and B vitamins can all be powerful natural immune boosters.
Keep stress in check
Post-holiday cash woes, New Year’s resolution pressures, bad road conditions, shorter days, more isolated living – winter sure can be a stressful time.
Stress impacts the immune system by increasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can interfere with T-cells the same way lack of sleep can. High cortisol levels increase inflammation and can also lower an antibody called secretory IgA which lines our gut and respiratory tract, making it our first line of defense.
Learning to control your stress response and regulate your nervous system is an essential practice for not only immune health but life in general. For some, this may look like breath work, meditation, journaling, gratitude or mindfulness practices. If the stress persists, try to stay attuned to your mental health. Seasonal depression is real, and your mental and physical health are equally important.
Hopefully, these immune boosting practices will keep you in fighting shape to face cold and flu season. Who knows? Staying healthy may even boost your winter enjoyment! When you’re not in bed with a nasty bug, you’re a lot more likely to find the beauty in the season. After all, winter is a necessary cycle for the planet we know and love.