While living through a pandemic, boosting your health and immunity is more important than ever. As we look for new ways to keep ourselves and our families as healthy as possible, one of the most effective things you can do to boost your immunity might be one of your favorite activities to do: sleeping.
“The intersection of sleep and the immune system takes place in the field of neuroimmunology, which explores how the brain controls tissues and organs with signals from neurotransmitters, cytokines and through hormones,” Dr. Jo Nell Shaw, DC, ND, tells SheKnows. “Many of the chemical signals work on both the brain and immune tissues.”
When we sleep, says Shaw, our stress hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine) go down and our healing increases “by allowing immune cells to react to a foreign cell and overtime create memory cells that boost your ability to quickly respond to future exposures.”
This is why, according to Shaw, we tend to be at our healthiest when we honor the rhythm and patterns of nature, like the circadian rhythm, which she says can be your guide to optimal immune function.
“Many of my patients get sick after finals or on vacations. Why? This drop in immune function is usually traced back to their prolonged period of stress and sleep deprivation, “ she says. “These go hand in hand and can be solved with naturopathic medicine and lifestyle changes.”
The connection between sleep and immune function in our daily lives
“Our body heals and recovers when we sleep. Sleep affects every aspect of our lives mentally, physically, emotionally,” Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, family and emergency doctor, tells SheKnows. “It can affect our mood, our appetite, our judgement, thinking, our concentration, etc.”
Depending on how much or too little of the various sleep hormones that are secreted can affect how much we eat, how we feel, how our body heals and reacts to stress. “Chronic stress and insufficient sleep do not allow for cellular healing and turnover and a strong robust immune system,” says Nesheiwat. “Especially at a time during a pandemic, less than six hours of sleep can put you at higher risk of becoming ill as our immune system depends on sleep to ward off infection.”
Create a sleep-wake cycle
“I find that the people who get the best sleep are the ones going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning,” says Shaw. “This reestablishes our connection to our cyclical nature.”
According to Shaw creating a sleep-wake cycle creates the best immune function because it helps our endocrine system. “Sleep when tired, wake when rested. It sounds simple but I promise it is a struggle in our society,” she says.
However, by doing so, it increases our sympathetic nervous system (the gas pedal) and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis) which increase stress signals throughout our body and increase risk for disease. “That afternoon lull that is solved by a caffeine boost is not helping your hormonal patterns for the rest of the day, makes it harder to sleep at night, and decreases your ability to listen and follow your body’s signals for rest,” says Shaw.
Instead ensure that you’re your bedtime and alarm clock sync up consistently during the week.
Make sleep your routine
Nesheiwat recommends making sleep a routine and attempting to sleep for at least seven to eight hours per night. “Our body loves routine habits,” she says.
She also advises avoiding caffeine after 1 or 2 pm as well as refraining from reading or watching TV in bed as it will disturb your sleep patterning. Exercising daily, staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol before bed are also recommended for a good night’s rest.
Cut out screen time
Shaw also recommends reducing screen time as an important factor in getting a proper sleep. “Screen time is the main reason people cannot ‘unwind’ at night and are commonly why people do not feel tired at bedtime,” she says. “The light given off by screens (laptops, TV, phones) decreases your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and increases cortisol and wakefulness. Cutting out screen use in the evening is a huge step in the way to a good night’s sleep.”
Try chiropractic care
According to Shaw, chiropractic care is another great way to bring balance to the nervous system and improve sleep and immune function.
“Getting adjusted increases the communication from the brain to our organs and tissues allowing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to regulate hormones and adapt to daily stresses,” she says. “When your body functions better you sleep better.”
You can’t buy a good night’s sleep but you can at least try to make your sleeping space a sanctuary. Here’s a few of our favorite products to help get a better night’s rest: