Person with respiratory infection

As the chill of winter increases its grip across much of the country, experts at the CDC are reporting a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses compared to this time last year. This surge of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 is hitting hardest in the Southeast and urban areas like New York City, and high infection rates are impacting all age groups.  

The CDC raised alarms in December over low vaccination rates against these respiratory illnesses in both kids and adults. This is especially problematic for groups at high risk of complications, like young children, older adults, and people who are pregnant or have a pre-existing medical condition.

Besides being up-to-date with vaccines, a crucial but often underrated way to help protect you and your family’s health this winter is ensuring sufficient sleep. A review of recent research found a significant link between a lack of sleep and susceptibility to COVID-19 infection. In six studies reviewed, participants with poor sleep had a 16% increased risk of getting COVID-19. 

Additionally, the review found that participants who slept poorly were more likely to develop severe illness and were at higher risk of death from COVID-19 compared to participants with sufficient sleep. The authors noted that a lack of quality sleep negatively affects the immune system and is associated with other conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, that can increase the risk of infection and severe disease.  

Conversely, good sleep helps strengthen the immune system by enhancing the body’s ability to ward off viral infections like flu, RSV, and COVID-19. Sleeping well after getting your vaccines may also boost their protective benefits.

While vaccines and good sleep are critical first steps to avoid getting sick this year, experts also recommend, taking everyday preventive measures like avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when you’re feeling unwell, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and washing your hands.

If you’re already dealing with a respiratory infection, getting enough rest becomes even more essential. The flu and other viral infections increase the body’s need for sleep, which in turn aids in your recovery by boosting the production of cytokines that help the immune system combat infections. Steps to sleep better with a respiratory illness include propping up your upper body, using a humidifier, and taking over-the-counter medicines for congestion, fever, and aches.

Consider incorporating some simple yet impactful sleep strategies to improve your sleep quality and your body’s natural defenses against illness this winter. These include planning for at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, finding ways to relax before bedtime, and staying hydrated.

As this winter’s flu season continues to unfold, remember that vaccinations, restful sleep, and preventive measures are your best shields against COVID-19, the flu, and other respiratory illnesses. Prioritizing these steps is vital to staying healthy during these colder months.

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8 Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024). Respiratory virus activity levels. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services., Retrieved January 11, 2024, from
  2. Center for Preparedness and Response. (2024). Urgent need to increase immunization coverage for influenza, COVID-19, and RSV and use of authorized/approved therapeutics in the setting of increased respiratory disease activity during the 2023 – 2024 winter season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., Retrieved January 11, 2024, from
  3. Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiological reviews, 99(3), 1325–1380.
  4. Shafiee, A., Jafarabady, K., Rajai, S., Mohammadi, I., & Mozhgani, S. H. (2023). Sleep disturbance increases the risk of severity and acquisition of COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European journal of medical research, 28(1), 442.
  5. Schmitz, N. C. M., van der Werf, Y. D., & Lammers-van der Holst, H. M. (2022). The Importance of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms for Vaccination Success and Susceptibility to Viral Infections. Clocks & sleep, 4(1),
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024). Resources to prepare for flu, COVID-19, and RSV. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services., Retrieved January 11, 2024, from
  7. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. (2024). Healthy habits to help protect against flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., Retrieved January 11, 2024, from
  8. MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine (US). (2017, May 5). Healthy sleep., Retrieved January 11, 2024, from

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