Sleep yourself well - sleep to improve your immune system
Take a moment to think about when you are sick - you just want to sleep. When you get sick your very clever immune system actually stimulate the sleep system - “Your body is trying to sleep itself well”. 1.
Adequate sleep and poor sleep quality affects many factors including our immunity. Immune system abnormalities have been shown in several sleep disorder from shift workers to insomniacs. Matthew Walker in his book “Why We Sleep” suggests that sleep “reboots the armoury of our immune system, helping fight malignancy, preventing infection and warding off all manner of sickness”. 2.
A really interesting study measured sleep of healthy individuals for a week then quarantined them and gave them a dose of the common cold virus, straight up their nose. They were grouped accordingly to how much they had slept the previous week before the exposure - less than 5 hours, 5 to 6 hours and 7 hours or more. What they found was that the less sleep they got in the week before the more likely they would be infected and catch the cold.
Less than 5 hours sleep equalled a 50% infection rate
7 hours plus of sleep equalled an 18% infection rate.
In other words, get sufficient sleep!
If you look at the adequate sleep guidelines from the Sleep Health Foundation (sleephealthfoundation.org.au) you can see how our sleep needs change with age. Adults are recommended to have between 7 and 9 hours sleep although between 6 and 10 may be be appropriate. Teenagers and children need more.
Here are three things you can do immediately to help you sleep
1. The first simple change you can make to get some good sleep is to set a regular bedtime and a regular wake time aiming for the 8 hours of sleep per night. You might try to be in bed at 10pm and sleep by 10.30am so you can wake at 6.30am and get in some exercise and meditation? I went too far didn’t I...
2. Get rid of your devices from your sleep space but also about half an hour or even better, an hour before you go to bed. Adjust the light to be low. A bit of mood lighting (or rather lack of bright light on your retina) gets your melatonin firing.
3. No caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bedtime.
Caffeine? Really? Noooooooooo!
Obviously caffeine is a stimulant, a stimulant so many of us have learnt to rely on and love (including myself. In fact from an early age my kids freely told others that “Coffee makes Mummy happy“).
The problem with caffeine in relation to sleep is that it has a half life (the time it tales for half of it to be eliminated or to lose one half of its initial effectiveness) of somewhere between 3 and 5 hours. But it can last in your system up to 24 hours. In other words, it can take 24 hours to fully eliminate caffeine from your body. And this lengthy time in your body disrupts sleep by reducing total sleep time and delaying when you go to sleep.
Caffeine blocks a neurochemical called Adenosine. Adenosine increases during the day and as it builds we begin to feel more sleepy. Essentially caffeine makes your brain unable to recognise the real adenosine and therefore you don’t feel sleepy. It also suppresses melatonin. In fact, caffeine has a stronger influence on melatonin than bright blue lights from your devices (but you still need to put those devices away).
Now I can already hear a few of you declaring loudly that caffeine does not impact your sleep and you have no issues falling asleep and staying asleep. I’ve heard this many times before. But for every person who has said this to me, when they stop drinking caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening they all report better sleep. Just give it a try.
Caffeine is a serious sleep disruptor. But it is not all bad news - just don’t have any caffeine about 6 to 8 hours before your planned bedtime. You don’t have to abstain just readjust your schedule. And then in the morning when you wake, spend a few minutes looking outside and getting natural light directly on the eyes to get your “wake, get up and go” hormones happening before you have your caffeine hit. And then you improve your resilience to disease and feel a whole lot better in the process.
If you need help with sleep be it falling asleep or remaining asleep please don’t hesitate to contact me. I have a large array of sedative and hypnotic herbs (sounds so weird but really just help you fall into a deep and relaxing sleep and won’t alter your mind in any way and make you walk around in some hippy state trance) available. You should always feel better after a good nights sleep and your immune system will be stronger too.
1. Walker, M (2017), p.18
2. Walker, M. (2017) “Why We Sleep”, Penguin Books, P.7