We’re all back on virus alert, and while our focus is primarily on sterilizing just about everything, we also need to do more to bolster our immunity. Yes, the regular cardio sesh, eating healthy, and sticking to warm fluids is all great advice, but the value of a good night’s sleep for the body’s natural immune system is often overlooked.‘Coronasomnia’ is a very real problem of the times, and the last thing we need in the midst of a pandemic is reduced immunity owing to lack of sleep. Studies have proven that people who don’t get good quality or enough sleep are more likely to fall sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
So how exactly does poor sleep weaken your body’s natural defenses?Sleep experts have found that during sleep, our immune systems release proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when we have an infection or inflammation, and sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. Additionally, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.
Convincing science aside, shutting down and switching off is easier said than done. How do you make sure then, that you get the prescribed 7-9 hours of shut eye your body needs?
- Keep your bed off limits: for anything other than sleep, that is. Especially with all this WFH’ing, our ‘office’ has the tendency to infiltrate other areas of the home. Make it a point to not open up your work laptop, or answer office calls from bed – best keep all stress inducers away from the one place you’re supposed to get your rest.
- Keep dinner small and early: Physicians recommend reserving the smallest meal for last, and ideally 2-3 hours before your hit the sack. It has now been established that eating right before bed can lead to poor sleep, slower metabolism, indigestion, and heartburn, among others. Interestingly enough, there are also specific sleep-inducing foods (that trigger the production of sleep hormones) you can incorporate into your dinner meal plans.
- Manage your screen time: A more well-known tip, but the one most ignored. Technology has been proven to disrupt sleeping patterns, the light from your devices is said to be an alerting stimulus as it suppresses the production of sleep hormones and reduces REM sleep which in turn impairs morning alertness. A study from the Harvard Medical School found that compared to reading a paper book, people who read from e-books needed an additional 10 minutes to fall asleep, feel sleepier the next morning and take hours longer to fully ‘wake up’. Sleep specialists strongly recommend turning off all devices at least an hour prior to bedtime. Consider:
- monitoring your screen time and setting yourself limits using an app.
- designating a spot away from your bed for all your devices at night and being disciplined about not reaching for them until morning
- using night mode or blue blocking glasses if you absolutely must use a device at nigh
- shielding yourself with a sleep mask if you are disturbed by the glare from your partner’s devices
- switching to a podcast or reading a printed book instead of watching a video before bedtime
- Get your blood pumping: Injecting a regular dose of exercise into your routine is great for sleep, as a good work out boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin. While naturally you shouldn’t be slotting in those adrenaline-boosting cardio workouts right before bedtime, there are a few recommended stretches and breathing exercises you can try to help switch off your body right before you switch off those lights.
- Make sure your kids are getting a good night’s sleep: Well-rested children = well-rested parents. Just as adults try to slot in their shut eye, it’s doubly important that children get in their prescribed 9-11 hours; this being crucial to their physical development, mental health, immunity, and overall wellbeing. If your child has an irregular sleep pattern, or is finding it hard to fall asleep, there are numerous things you can try, but if all else fails, a visit to his/her pediatrician may be in order.
- Make sure you’re comfortable: Comfort of course, is key to restful slumber. Make sure your pillows are right for you (invest in a good orthopedic pillow if suffering from neck and back pains), try and set your bedroom temperature to one that makes you feel most rested, and of course, make sure you’re nice and snuggly in some comfortable nightwear.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day: Waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, reinforces circadian rhythm and in turn helps build a habit of a consistent bedtime. Aim to be out of bed by 7AM and in your PJs by 10PM (or tweak according to your specific needs) and you will have more restful nights and brighter days.
In addition to the direct link to our body’s immune system, bad sleep habits have also been found to be proportionate to cognitive issues, weight gain, emotional stability, and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Proof enough that getting enough winks is more than just the ‘beauty sleep’ you feel you need to catch up on.