Good quality sleep supports your immune system
Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

How you can improve your sleeping habits 

By Ina van der Watt Director: Universal Corporate Wellness

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with an onslaught of distressing news and drastic changes to our daily way of living. Besides the critically important prevention measures we must follow, we know that we need to keep our immune systems as strong as possible so that we are in the best possible health to cope with the infection, should we fall victim to it.

In this current climate, however, many South Africans may be finding that they feel anxious and that this has a negative impact on their quality of sleep. In this article we, therefore, share information about sleep, why it is important for your immune system in particular and what you can do to try to get enough good quality sleep.

It should be noted that getting enough quality sleep is not a luxury — it is critical to the maintenance of good physical and mental health and its importance should not be underestimated. One of the important functions of sleep is to repair and revitalise the body and this includes your immune system.

The importance of sleep

A lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to an infectious illness, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.

Lack of sleep reduces the production of protective immune responses. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep. So, your body needs sufficient good quality sleep to assist you in fighting infectious diseases. Therefore it is particularly important to make sure that one is getting enough sleep during this coronavirus pandemic.

How much sleep do you need?

How much sleep you need changes as you age. The following table is helpful in understanding how much sleep is considered necessary for the different age groups.

Age Group
Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn 0-3 months 14-17 hours
— Infant 4-12 months 12-16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
— Toddler 1-2 years 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
— Preschool 3-5 years 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
School-age 6-12 years 9-12 hours per 24 hours
Teen 13-18 years 8-10 hours per 24 hours
Adult 19-60 years 7 or more hours per 24 hours
61-64 years 7-9 hours
>65 years 7-8 hours


Basic rules for a good night’s sleep

Good sleep habits, which are sometimes referred to as ‘sleep hygiene’, can help you get a good night’s sleep. Some habits that can improve the quality of your sleep include:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule, particularly a regular wake-up time in the morning – even on weekends. Be consistent about this.
  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get sufficient sleep appropriate to your age.
  • Avoid caffeine-containing beverages such as tea, coffee and cooldrinks containing caffeine, in the late afternoon and evening. Note that beverages such as Rooibos tea do not contain caffeine.
  • Avoid alcohol near bedtime.
  • Avoid smoking, especially in the evening.
  • Do not go to bed hungry but avoid eating a large meal just before bedtime. A light snack before bedtime is fine.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. Some people find block-out curtains, earplugs or sound machines helpful.
  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
  • Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens before bedtime (e.g. laptops, tablets, cell phones and some reading devices (i.e. E-books that give off light). The blue and green light from these devices can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Make it a rule to have no televisions in any bedroom in your home.
  • Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night. Exercise regularly, but preferably four to five hours before bedtime and not closer to bedtime.
  • Avoid daytime naps, especially if they are longer than 20 to 30 minutes or occur late in the day.


Remember, adequate sleep is a necessity and will help you to maintain a healthy immune system and, ultimately, to be more productive. Quality sleep supports physical and mental health and wellbeing, and therefore must be prioritised even when our schedules may be disrupted.