Everyday Immune Booster: Sleep
By Cate Reade, MS, RD, SFS ~
“A good laugh and long sleep are the two best cures for anything” – Irish Proverb
Building a strong immune system is on everyone’s mind with the global emergence of the novel coronavirus. A concept to understand is that daily lifestyle choices can be the most powerful medicine to build immune health and resilience. Piles of research demonstrate how food, movement, mindset, stress management and social connections impact immune function and defense against viruses, bacteria, and other infectious invaders. The most powerful and profound way to boost immunity is with sleep.
Sleep is restorative and foundational for our body’s trillions of cells to synchronize, organize and work well together. Rest is also the best way to support healing and recovery if you do get sick. Have you noticed that when you are sleep-deprived you are more prone to catching a cold, flu, or virus?
Most of us have experienced a poor night’s sleep at some point in our lives. Personally, I was an insomniac for years and it’s miserable. Being sleep-deprived can make you feel groggy, fatigued, irritable and we may notice that we can’t think, move or even balance well. That’s because our body’s network of systems are negatively impacted, including immune function. Here’s why and 10 simple sleep strategies to help.
Life Runs on Rhythms
We all have a rhythm in our daily lives to accomplish our goals, dreams and activities. Our body has its own rhythm too, the circadian rhythm or clock. It consists of daily variations in behaviors and internal bodily processes so we can function properly. Our circadian clock is ancient and evolved with the 24-hour light/dark cycle. Being asleep at night and awake during the day is one example. Behind the scenes our body has daily changes in blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, body temperature and hormone production like cortisol and melatonin (1).
Our circadian clock is driven by a “master clock” found in the hypothalamus of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) (2). It’s our brain that ultimately drives the sleep/wake cycle and timing of bodily functions throughout the day. The light that enters our eyes largely sets the rhythm for the SCN. Going outside and getting sunlight in the morning helps align our circadian rhythm to sleep better and improve our health, longevity and immunity. Recent research demonstrates that the immune system is under control of the circadian clock (3).
To function normally throughout the day, different hormones are released. In the morning, cortisol is released to wake us up, think of it as nature’s built-in alarm system. It has an inverse relationship with melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel sleepy. When cortisol is high in the morning, melatonin is low. As the day goes on, cortisol levels gradually drop, and melatonin levels begin to rise in the evening.
How do you know if you are getting a good night’s sleep? When you can wake up naturally without the use of an alarm clock and feel rested, that’s a solid sign you are getting proper sleep. Getting to bed early enough so you can naturally wake up naturally is vitally important for health and well-being. Going to sleep and rising at the same time each day, even on the weekends, is an important sleep strategy too.
Electricity and our electronic devices make it easy to slip into bad habits and stay up too late. I struggled with insomnia for over four years because of the inflammation caused by a chronic Lyme infection and I was staying up late working at my computer. I fell out of sync with my circadian rhythm until I woke up to that simple fact. Before I understood the power of sleep, I had the mantra, “I will sleep when I am dead.” I have heard many of my friends, family and entrepreneurs think and behave the same way. Today, sleep is my top priority and I guard it like a bulldog because it is fundamental to live longer, happier and healthier.
When you have a busy schedule and need to be certain you are up on time, get to bed early enough to wake up naturally and use an alarm clock for back up. This is a strategy that removes the stress you may feel about oversleeping.
Some people have trouble staying asleep at night. A common cause is having low blood sugar or being hypoglycemic. If you wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious, shaky, sweaty or hungry, low blood sugar can be the reason. It may be caused by not eating enough during the day or consuming too many sugary/starchy foods and not enough healthy fat, vegetables, fiber and protein at meals.
Sometimes people get up to urinate frequently. That could be because of consuming too much sodium (4). Processed foods are notoriously high in sodium. With a lot of salt your body, you need to excrete it out. If you have a salty meal before bed, chances are you will be waking up to urinate in the middle of the night.
With age we can experience an “overactive bladder” that increases urination frequency (5). That can be related to pelvic floor muscles that have grown weak over time. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help (6). Older adults have reported continence improvements after using the MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer for 10-20 minutes per week. Exercise is medicine and MoveMor™ can make pelvic floor strengthening quick and easy (MoveMor.com/exercise-programs/). You can perform the exercises with or without the MoveMor™ board to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
Fear or anxiety about the coronavirus is understandable. Staying glued to the news can be extremely upsetting and detrimental to sleep and well-being. Limit your time watching or reading the news. For the best information, visit ww.CDC.gov or www.WHO.int. Practice deep breathing techniques. A quick and easy one is to breathe deeply into your belly for a count of 4, hold for 7 and release for a count of 8. Or try diaphragmatic breathing mentioned in my previous article, “Breathing to Boost Immunity, Balance & Resilience.” This helps calm down an overactive nervous system.
Sleep & Nap Time
Most experts recommend sleeping between 7-9 hours per night. If you have trouble sleeping less than 6 hours, taking a 20 – 30-minute midday nap can help you feel better and boost your immune system (7).
10 Simple Sleep Strategies
- Go to bed and rise the same time each day.
- Head outside to get some morning sunshine or take a short walk.
- Enjoy lots of fiber from colorful vegetables, healthy fats and protein at each meal.
- Finish eating 3-4 hours before bed.
- Eliminate or avoid alcohol at least 4-5 hours before bedtime.
- Set a reminder to help yourself go to bed on time.
- Turn off screens at least an hour before bed.
- Put your smart phone in airplane mode or turn it off.
- Ensure the room is cool, quiet, and dark.
- Book end your morning and evening with a routine of gentle mobility/flexibility exercises and deep breathing.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Start by choosing one strategy at a time to make these choices sustainable habits. Here’s to sweet dreams and a stronger immune system!
Remember, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Please reach out with questions or comments. I am offering FREE 15-minute consultations to help you during COVID-19.
Cate Reade, MS, RD, SFS is a Registered Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist and Functional Medicine Practitioner candidate on a mission to improve functional mobility and health span utilizing the power of lifestyle medicine. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. Today, as CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer, she develops exercise products and programs that target joint flexibility, strength and balance deficits to help older adults fall less and live more. Cate instructs MoveMor™ exercise classes and speaks with healthcare professionals locally and nationally about mobility, lifestyle and fall prevention solutions so people can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Contact Cate at 303.515.7070 or Cate@MoveMor.com.
- Haspel, JA et al (2020) Perfect timing: circadian rhythms, sleep and immunity. JCI Insight
- National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Circadian Rhythms. Nigms.nih.gov
- Hergenhan S et al (2020). Molecular Interactions Between Components of the Circadian Clock and the Immune System. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022283620300280?via%3Dihu
- Matsuo T et al (2017). Daily salt intake is an independent risk factor for pollakiuria and nocturia. International Journal of Urology
- Vaughan CP & Bliwise DL (2018). Sleep and Nocturia in Older Adults. Sleep Med Clin.
- Fitz F et al (2017). Pelvic floor muscle training for overactive bladder symptoms – A prospective study. Scielo.
- Faraut B et al (2011). Benefits of napping and an extended duration of recovery sleep on alertness and immune cells after acute sleep restriction. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.