Sleep is non-negotiable when it comes to our health. The sleep and health connection is a powerful one. Sleep is the time our body recovers and performs vital metabolic processes. This can range from cleaning up toxins, to repairing tissues to consolidating short term memories into long term memories. And… it’s one of the best ways to improve your immune health!
We know that a lack of sleep has been associated with a number of health issues. Everything from inflammation, insulin resistance, lack of focus, poor immunity, weight gain and so much more. Yet, sleep is often one of the most commonly neglected and overlooked strategies when it comes to optimizing our health.
If you think under-eye circles are the worst consequence of skimping out on sleep, then you might be in for a bit of a shock. This important lifestyle factor is absolutely necessary for your immune system to function efficiently and effectively.
Sleep can improve your immune health because it powers up the immune system, as well as many other things. With good quality and quantity of sleep we have the ability to boost the effectiveness of a certain specialized immune cell called “T-cells.” A T-cell is also called a lymphocyte and is a type of leukocyte (white blood cell) that is an essential part of the immune system. These specialized cells kill infected cells, activate other immune cells and help to regulate the immune response.
When a T-cell recognizes a virally infected cell, it activates something called an “integrin,” which is a sticky type of protein that allow them to attach to and kill the infected cell. When comparing healthy volunteers who had a good night’s sleep versus volunteers who stayed awake most of the night, researchers found that the participants that had slept well had HIGHER levels of “integrin” activation compared to those who had lost out on sleep.
Furthermore, when our body experiences sleep deprivation (either not sleeping well or not enough) we tend to increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is NOT a bad hormone and actually has a beneficial effect on the immune system – when it’s in check and within normal levels. When cortisol levels are consistently elevated then it blocks the immune system from kicking into gear, thus opening the doors for bacteria and viruses to invade. This is often why we get sick after stressful periods where we’re not sleeping or eating well.
Sleep is crucial to our well-being. It’s important to NOT only get good quality of sleep, but also good quantity of sleep. This helps our body fight back against potential threats. Simply put, sleep is a natural immune booster. We need 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each and every night. It’s important that we go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to help regulate our circadian rhythm. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible and the temperature around 66-67F. No electronics in the bedroom, please!
Getting a good night’s sleep requires a good bedtime ritual. Bedtime rituals ensure we prepare our body for sleep. It’s important to shut down electronics at least 1 hour before bed. Try to incorporate some of these before you head to bed to ensure a good sleep:
- Have a hot Epsom salt bath for 20-30 minutes. Research has shown that having an Epsom salt bath after 8:00pm is sleep enhancing.
- Read a non-stimulating book for 30 minutes. This allows your mind to relax.
- Meditate for 15-20 minutes before bed. Meditation ensures that we are in the parasympathetic state when heading to bed.
- Write in your gratitude journal. When we’re grateful, we’re also happy.
- Enjoy a relaxing chat with a family member or friend.
- Legs up the wall pose for 15-20 minutes. Super relaxing!
- Sit and enjoy a cup of calming tea (chamomile, lemon balm etc.).
- Yoga Nidra for 30 minutes. This is a powerful technique to help activate your body’s relaxation response. This is not yoga as in the sense of poses but more so lying down and listening to the guidance of the instructor. It has been shown to be very good at inducing sleep and relaxing the mind.
Not only can sleep improve your immune health, but it is critical to our overall health! It’s time to invest in your sleep schedule and perfect your bedtime routine. Get to sleep early and often! Sweet Dreams.