I wrote in many of my previous articles about how we can improve our immune system by combining healthy eating, mindful practice, supplements and exercise. Even though we all know what we need to do, sometimes applying our knowledge can be difficult. If we want to see long term results then we need to consume a diet mostly consisting of whole foods, and we also need to be getting regular exercise. Understanding and knowing this is a great start, however we need consistency and dedication to get there.
Although there are some easy habits that, with a bit of attention, you can use to improve your body’s own defense and improve your mental health as well.
Sleep is one of the most overlooked things that can have a big impact on our health. We may think that if we’re generally sleeping around seven to eight hours without waking up that we are a good sleeper. But did you know that a lack of good quality sleep can impact almost every physiological aspect in our life?
If we have just one night’s bad sleep (for most people that’s 4 to 6 hours of sleep) then that can cause an almost 70% decrease in our natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells are the first line of defense which fights especially cancer cells and potential threats. They are critical components of the body's immune response.
If we have poor sleep for a week then we may see our fasting blood sugar is higher than usual, which means we are in at least the pre-diabetic range. Poor sleep (for most people 4 to 5 hours each night) can lead to the generation of inflammatory cytokines which play an important role in metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disorders. It can also increase our risk of infection too.
Cytokines are small proteins that are critical in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells, and they help the body's immune and inflammation responses. Cytokines are released during sleep by our immune system and in times when we need them, for example when we have an infection or inflammation, it is crucial that we are getting good sleep. So our body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases, while long-term lack of sleep also increases our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
Especially if you choose to get vaccinated then it is a great idea to make sure that you get good sleep before doing so.
It is also not just the length of your sleep, also the quality of sleep is important. For example, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep provides emotional first aid and can also improve our creativity. Sleep is a time for our brain to shut down the noradrenalin and stop our thinking, anxiety and worries. Sleep is time to recover.
Here are a few tips on how we can improve our sleep:
- Try to go to bed around the same time and wake up around the same time every day.
- If you don’t feel sleepy then don’t stay in bed. Go to bed only when you really feel sleepy.
- Keep electronics, such as your TV and phone, out of your bedroom.
- Before going to bed it is a good idea to read a book, meditate or listen to something relaxing instead of watching news or browsing the internet.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Our body needs to drop its core temperature 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
- When we wake up we need to increase the body temperature by doing a little bit of activity or drinking a hot drink.
Sleep is essential for life. If you really give enough attention then you can improve your immune system and many physical and mental aspects in your life.
“Everything is difficult until it become easy”
— Dan Millman
1 - “Cold exposure and immune function”
2 - “NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours”
3 - “Cytokines, Inflammation and Pain”
4 - “Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?”
5 - “Sleep and immune function”