Could a lack of sleep be impacting the strength of your immune system? Folk wisdom has long promoted the belief that "sleep helps the body heal." Over the past 15 years, a growing body of research has accumulated supporting the popular wisdom that sleep regulates the immune system and enhances immune defense.
One mechanism for the impact of sleep on immunity is via the potential of sleep to improve the functioning of T cells, which are an important part of the immune system. Another way sleep impacts immunity is because sleep is the time when the body produces cytokines, a protein which targets infection and inflammation. Therefore, insufficient sleep equates to the production of fewer protective cytokines.
Insufficient sleep -- anything less than seven hours per night for adults is, unfortunately, common in our modern world. Many people struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or to get quality sleep. In addition to immune system suppression, chronically poor sleep can contribute to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, type II diabetes, and depression.
Fortunately, there's a lot that can be done to naturally support healthy sleep cycles. For better sleep and a well functioning immune system, try the following tips:
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene Throughout the Day A healthy sleep practice starts as soon as you wake up. Start by maintaining a consistent wake time each day. To reset your circadian rhythm, which will support healthy sleep cycles at night, get exposure to natural light in the morning, ideally within an hour of waking.
The habits you practice throughout the day also have a big impact on your sleep duration and quality. Give yourself a caffeine curfew, such as noon, or at the latest 2pm. This applies not only to coffee, but to caffeinated teas and even chocolate. Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, preferably outside, and no more than four hours prior to bedtime. In the evenings, avoid alcohol and nicotine, and try to finish your last big meal at least 3 hours prior to bedtime.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary Your sleep environment is an important component of a good night's sleep. Keep your bedroom temperature on the slightly cooler side. Thermoregulation strongly impacts sleep cycles. Studies have found that the ideal room temperature for sleep is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above 75 or below 54 will likely cause some difficulty sleeping.
Reduce ambient noise and light. Did you know that your skin actually has receptors all over the body that can pick up light? If there's light in your bedroom, your body is picking it up and sending messages to your brain and organs that can interfere with your sleep. Use blackout curtains or tape the blinds to get the room as dark as possible. An eye mask and earplugs can also work wonders!
Make sure you have a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding. Paint and decorate your bedroom in restful colors. Keep the bedroom for sex and sleep only and try to avoid doing work there.
Create an Evening Routine While morning routines are well-recognized for their ability to contribute to enhanced wellness, creating a wind-down routine is just as powerful. As with wake time, aim to be consistent with your bedtime as well. Additionally, to reduce melatonin-disrupting blue light, avoid looking at screens one-to-two hours before bedtime.
You can also draw from these tools to help you wind down:
- An aromatherapy bath with epsom salts and lavender oil
- Reading light fiction
- Herbal support, such as Sleepy Nights and Serious Relaxer
Experiment with these strategies to find what gives you the best night's sleep, knowing that you're supporting a healthy immune system in the process!
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Writer Katie Gerber is a holistic health and nutrition coach serving clients locally in the front range as well as online. In 2014, she completed Aviva Romm's Herbal Medicine for Women certification. After thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and the Colorado Trail in 2016, Katie decided to use her botanical medicine and nutrition knowledge to help fellow wilderness lovers seeking more energy and better health. She transitioned from her career as a pastry chef, and enrolled in the Institute for Transformational Nutrition. She now uses her lifelong passion for holistic health with her background in the culinary arts to help people live healthier lives, in alignment with nature. Katie writes for several publications and speaks at local events. When she's not writing and working with clients, you'll most likely find her in the mountains, in the garden, or in the kitchen testing recipes. Find out more about Katie, her articles, and her adventures at her website.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.