Updated: Apr 6
Do you sometimes have trouble...
going to bed on time?
getting up when you need to?
getting enough quality sleep?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this week’s article on immune health can help you – it's all about how better sleep can improve your immune health and how to create a healthy sleep rhythm.
Scroll down to see this week's practical tips.
Continue reading below if you first want to know how it all works.
"How much sleep do I need?" is a common question people have.
Most of us who regularly sleep less than five to six hours have suppressed immune systems. A long-term suppressed immune system can increase our risk for various chronic diseases, such as cancer.
“Okay…,” you might say, “but that’s long term. Why does it matter short term?”
The good news?
You won’t increase your risk of cancer risk over the short term.
The bad news?
Your immune response to anything else will be impaired.
Infectious challenges such as the flu, common cold, and Covid-19, will all have an easier time manifesting and developing if you fall victim to a lack of sleep.
So, what can you do?
Sleep according to your natural circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal, or circadian, clock. The most well-known circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle.
Your circadian clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light and darkness. When nighttime arrives, your body starts producing a hormone called melatonin, which promotes sleep.
On the other hand:
The production of the hormone serotonin increases when you are exposed to light.
It helps you feel awake when you get up the next day. It is also called the happy hormone because of the way it can affect your mood.
A circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep.
When you have an inconsistent sleep schedule and you're not living in alignment with this rhythm, it’s much easier to run into sleep problems. Circadian rhythms have been proven to play a big role in physical and mental health.
Here are some tips allowing your body to align with a circadian rhythm as much as possible, which will benefit your entire body, including your immune system – which is particularly sensitive to circadian disruptions.
1. Embrace sunlight:
Exposure to natural light, especially early in the day, strengthens your connection with your circadian clock. For this to happen, you don’t need to sunbathe.
So yes, you can keep your clothes on (unless you want to take them off yourself).
2. Welcome daylight
Open the curtains, unblock your windows or do anything to welcome daylight into your home.
3. Follow a consistent sleep schedule
The more irregular your sleeping schedule is the more you can prevent your body from adjusting to a steady circadian rhythm. You don’t have to be too strict with yourself and go to bed at, for example, 11 p.m. sharp.
You could be more lenient and set your bedtime between 11–11.30 p.m.
It’s better if you stick to the time you set, so make it realistic. Don’t take this out of context and come up with a funky time frame such as 11 p.m.–1 a.m. (I know what you’re thinking).
4. Be active
The more intimate your relationship is with your sofa, the more it may influence your ability to fall asleep at night. Be active, walk, cycle, play with your kids, have fun outdoors! Make it a habit to have some sort of activity that allows you to get off the sofa and move. Moving from the sofa to the fridge and back doesn’t count.
5. Limit light before bed
Artificial light exposure at night can interfere with circadian rhythm. Dim the lights and put down electronic devices in the lead-up to bedtime.
6. Use dim red lights at nighttime
Red light is less likely to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
7. Minimize blue lights at nighttime
Blue lights, such as LED, suppress your sleep hormone, melatonin, significantly more. Try and avoid looking at bright screens in the hours leading up to bedtime. At the very least, dim your computer and phone screens.
8. Keep naps short and early in the afternoon
Late and long naps can push back your bedtime and throw your sleep cycles off. There is an exception, though, which we’ll cover next time.
9. A healthy diet
A whole food diet—emphasizing anti-inflammatory whole plant foods—lowers chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can affect the quality of your sleep and mess with your circadian rhythm. Just bear in mind that if you have an intolerance or sensitivity to a particular food—no matter how anti-inflammatory it is, e.g., an apple—it will contribute to inflammation.
10. Implement one at a time
This last tip—and arguably the most important one—is all about effective implementation.
Have you ever felt motivated to take care of business only to realize you took on too much work and, as a result, you failed to accomplish much of anything?
Start with the thing(s) you can easily manage and stick to it/them for at least 10 weeks. By then, it will have become second nature and you can start implementing other tips more successfully.
This article is part of a weekly series of Immune Health Tips (IHT).
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