Unless you are one of the lucky few who has dodged COVID completely since the start of the pandemic, you’ve probably been infected with the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, at least once.
The heightened contagiousness of XBB.1.5—the latest omicron subvariant that’s significantly fueling new infections—has made it clear that, even if you’ve had COVID or been fully vaccinated and boosted, there’s a chance you’re going to get sick with the virus over and over again. Depending on the variant you’ve been infected with in the past, a new variant could potentially evade established antibodies, or even hit you a bit harder. On top of that, the vast majority of people are no longer practicing the precautions once widely used to blunt the spread of COVID. The result: The virus is still everywhere, so it’s important to take the possibility of reinfection seriously.
However, despite living in what feels like a never-ending, unforgiving pandemic, we’re (finally) getting better at dealing with COVID. By now, you’re probably aware that getting vaccinated and boosted, taking regular at-home tests, isolating post-exposure, starting treatments like Paxlovid if you have access to them, and wearing a high-quality mask can help keep you and your community safe—but there are simple steps that shouldn’t be forgotten, and that you should take to protect your health if you get sick (whether it’s for the first time or you’re headed for round two).
Here are three things you don’t want to skimp out on if you’re sick with COVID.
Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.
You hear it all the time, but getting enough high-quality sleep is critical when it comes to staying healthy. Research shows that a lack of quality sleep may increase your chances of getting infected by a harmful pathogen, and also prolong your recovery if and when you do get sick.
Shanina Knighton, PhD, RN, CIC, associate research professor at Case Western Reserve University and executive director at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control, tells SELF that sleep is one key factor in keeping your immune system in tip-top shape. Sleep helps your body produce cytokines, which are protective proteins in your body that fight infections like a cold, the flu, or COVID, including the inflammation these illnesses can trigger. When you’re sleep deprived, your body pumps out fewer anti-inflammatory cytokines that are needed to stave off infections and help your body heal, says Dr. Knighton.
Most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep a night to optimally support their overall health, including their immune systems. Of course, when you’re sick, sometimes your symptoms—a runny nose or cough, fever, and body aches—can make it impossible to sleep well, which is why it’s so important to take sick days, if you can, when you’re not feeling so hot. If you can’t take off—which, let’s be real, is out-of-reach for many. Try to turn in early at night or squeeze in some deep rest (even if you can’t doze off, the relaxation will be regenerative). “The only way for you to recover is to really sleep when you can,” Dr. Knighton says.
Your mucus membrane—aka the mucosa, or the goo that lines all of your organs and body canals—has a very important job in keeping you healthy. It acts as a barrier against pathogens, like SARS-CoV-2, trapping them in sticky fluid and flushing them out of your body via coughs, sneezes, and post-nasal drip. “You want to flush those bad things out of your body and you can’t do that if you’re not having enough water,” says Dr. Knighton.