At this time no doubt many of us are thinking about staying well and boosting our immunity. Immunity is our bodies' ability to resist or fight off infection and there are many simple things we can do on a daily basis to boost our immunity.
One of the lifestyle factors that affect our immunity that we can look at is sleep. Sleep and our immunity are linked. In this article we look at sleep and how making sure the quantity and quality are just right for you and your body.
Not getting enough sleep or having an unsettled sleep can affect our bodies and their ability to function well. You may also 'sleep like a log' however this does not always mean good quality sleep. Feeling exhausted when we wake and/or not wanting to get up in the morning are signs that the quality and/or quantity of our sleep can be improved.
Establishing a supportive sleep rhythm gives the body time to regenerate and rest. Sleep is the space in the 24 hour cycle that we repeat every day for your body to recharge, rebuild, regenerate and resolve things that may be affecting its balance and homeostasis and this includes the immune system.
What's happening in the body?
When the body does not get enough good quality sleep it makes less ‘cytokines’, a type of protein that directly targets infection and inflammation, and which effectively creates an immune response . The cytokine proteins and other cells in the immune system detect and destroy germs and viruses that have infiltrated the body and also supports the proteins and cells to spot them in the future and fight them off earlier. So it is a good thing to have an abundance of these proteins in the body and to support your body to be able to create them efficiently.
Cytokines are produced and released during sleep, which means if you do not sleep well you may not produce as many cytokines and this may weaken your immune system. For example, it has been proven that not enough sleep or ongoing chronic sleep loss can make the flu vaccine less effective .
Sleeping well regularly, allows the systems of the body to relax and recharge. If we are often feeling stressed and anxious this puts a toll on our body and in the longer term it can reduce and weaken our immune system and also increase the likelihood of developing mental health issues .
Research has also shown that people who get less than 7 hours sleep or ongoing poor quality sleep over years are more likely to develop health issues such as high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes and obesity .
Four Tips to Improve Your Sleep
As a guide, it is great to get around 7 - 8 hours good quality sleep a night…this is a guide however, and it is important to find out what your own needs are based on your age, work patterns and activity levels all of which will affect how much sleep we need every night .
See below for four super tips to improve your sleep and therefore give your immune system a boost....
1. Have a Power Nap
A power nap can be rewarding, restoring and energising…give it a go!
If we miss our regular sleep or feel unwell or tired, laying our head down and rest with a power nap of around 30 minutes has been found to reduce stress and so can support the immune system to not be overloaded or depleted .
You don't even have to completely fall asleep. Even a 10 minute lie down somewhere quiet and warm and just focusing on your breath and relaxing your body can make a difference. You might find our meditation group helpful, which runs once a week online and also our Meditation page on our website for more information.
2. Deal with Stress
If we do not recognise or deal with the stress or nervous tension we may be feeling this can have a damaging impact on our sleep and our immunity . If the body finds itself constantly in 'fight or flight' mode, or over- stimulation of the nervous system, we find it harder to settle. We can feel anxious or nervous and in the longer term this can detrimental for the body and health issues can begin to develop .
If we honestly reflect on our everyday reactions and emotions to life, many of us may find that we have gotten used to feeling a level of stress and/or tension (and this may obviously increase if we encounter a worrying situation). We may not know how to deal with it and maybe even think it is normal. There are however simple techniques to work on our stress levels and methods to get us feeling more relaxed in our day and also ready for a good night's sleep:
Be honest about how we feel
Establish stop moments in our day where we rest our bodies
Exercise regularly in our home or on a walk
Become more body and breath aware
Be aware of our posture, picking up on tense shoulders etc
Practice choosing the quality and speed of our breath
Reach out for appropriate support, be it from your GP, a friend, or family member, or perhaps a complementary health practitioner.
There are no quick fixes to this, however improvement can be seen rapidly when we begin to be more consistent and use the tools we know work to settle and support us and our body.
3. Work on Your Daily Routine
We do not always consider looking at our daily routine to support our bedtime, but it is effective and simple to do. We are in a cycle of 24 hours and how we treat ourselves in the day rolls into our night time as does our nightly habits impact on our day time.
How we are in the whole of our day impacts how we feel when we lay our head on the pillow at the end of the day. If we go into over- drive to get things done, if we go into 'couch potato' mode, if we consume sugary food and caffeinated drinks and/or alcohol regularly, if we get embroiled in emotionally charged conversations or TV shows or movies, these are all likely to effect our sleep [7,8]. If you are agitated, anxious, nervous, stressed or trying to solve the world's problems in your head all day…when bed time comes the brain keeps on running and we can find it hard to settle or be still.
Honesty pays off here, if you can reflect and see areas that are not supportive or that you can improve the likelihood is that your sleep rhythm will also improve.
4. Go To Bed When You are Tired
It can take practice to put yourself to bed when you feel tired, rather than ignoring it and staying up to watch TV/Netflix or doing social media or work etc. There is no perfection and some nights you may find yourself staying up too late, but you can have it as a plan and see how it goes. Refining habits is an ongoing, unfolding practice. We often stay up too late and think we will sleep better if we are extra tired but this can often reduce the quality of our sleep. It is also a good idea to go to bed at a similar time every day even on weekends if you can as not getting enough quality sleep or not having a consistent sleep pattern can have a detrimental impact on our immune system.
Other Ideas to Support Your Immune System
Supporting your immune system through improving your sleep habits is important but also only part of the picture. Making sure we have strong self-care and hygiene habits, that we eat well, that we enjoy moderate exercise, are engaged and purposeful throughout our day and have stress management tools are all also super important.
We need to look at the whole picture when it comes to our sleep habits and build self-care into our everyday way of life.
Have fun and enjoy experimenting when it comes to building supportive sleep. Could getting a good night's sleep possibly begin when we wake up in the morning?
How we can help out:
We hold regular wellbeing workshops including self-care and lifestyle advice and support people to make big changes through small consistent choices including sleep, nutrition, exercise, posture, fatigue, stress, tension, fitness etc
Get in touch with us to find out more 01208 816 666 or see more about our online classes and consultations
*Underlying Health Issues
This article is meant as a support for general health & wellbeing and not a substitute for conventional medical advice. It is important to contact your GP for advice and support if you have any concerns, about your sleep, immunity or mental or physical health.