It’s easy to pair bad habits with their immediate outcomes. A late-night Netflix binge makes for a groggy morning commute, or one drink too many sacrifices your Saturday to a hangover. But if you need an extra push to help you replace bad habits with good ones, you might consider thinking long-term. Not only do the habits listed below affect your mood and productivity, but they can also weaken your immune response. And with cold-and-flu season about to pounce, it’s the perfect time to prioritize your immune system.
Focusing on “amount” of sleep rather than the “timing” of sleep
You’ve heard that eight hours of sleep is the magic number, but does the timing of those eight hours matter? In other words, if you’re getting the requisite eight hours, is going to bed and waking up early better for you than staying up late but allowing yourself to sleep in? Research suggests that earlier is better. According to Dr. Matt Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Berkeley, non-REM sleep—the deeper, more restorative kind—phases out as morning approaches. That means that if you wait too long to start your nightly “sleep shift,” you could be missing out on the significant benefits that deep sleep offers your immune system.
Living in a constant state of “fight or flight”
Though the relationship between stress and your immune system is well established, it’s also complicated. To grasp it, think of the relationship in terms of your body’s priorities. If your body interprets your daily habits or mental state as stressful, your endocrine system floods you with hormones that prepare you for a perceived emergency (even if it’s just an awkward social encounter). The downside is that at the same time, your body deprioritizes processes like digestion, cell repair, and, yes, your ability to fight illness. While minimizing stress is easier said than done, finding ways to ease your anxiety can have a huge impact on your physical health.
Seeing the glass as half-empty
In case pessimists needed another reason to view the glass as half-empty, it turns out that a perpetual frown can actually weaken your immune system. Negative attitudes hurt your health by preventing the important work of two immune-related cells in your body: T cells and NK cells, both of which hunt down infected cells in your system.
Drinking too much alcohol
From causing cancers of the throat and liver to tipping the balance between good and bad bacteria in your gut, excess alcohol consumption has long been associated with a host of health issues. But more recent research also shows how drinking too much too often can disrupt the immune system, leading to a higher likelihood of cold and flu.
Living at your desk
Humans evolved to move constantly through varied landscapes, but Being sedentary is obviously bad for your posture and your mental well-being, but according to a 2012 study, too much sitting can also weaken your immune system. But that doesn’t mean you should burst out of your office chair and go berserk on the treadmill—other studies have shown that overtraining can increase your risk of infection. As with most good habits, moderation and consistency are key.