How Sleep Affects Our Immunity and Health

With everything going on, getting to sleep at a reasonable hour might be pretty difficult, and the fear and anxiety of these uncertain times can disrupt sleep even further.

Science and research is constantly adding interesting new additions to the long list of reasons of why sleep is important, from cementing new learnings, to deep cleaning our brain and washing away toxins, to preventing us from having crabby squabbles with our partner (yes, this has been scientifically proven). But now, more than ever, getting good quality deep sleep is important for physically strengthening our immune systems, and reducing stress.

When we sleep deeply, the parasympathetic nervous system becomes more active. This is the part of the nervous system that is involved in rest, repair, digestion, sexual function and immunity. The parasympathetic nervous system controls all restorative processes in the body.

Research has shown that getting around seven to eight hours of good quality sleep each night enhances the function of T cells – a crucial part of our immune system, these white blood cells search out and destroy pathogens and invading viruses. Furthermore, sleep plays a role in producing cytokines, proteins required by our immune systems to ensure our body's timely response to harmful invaders. Proper sleep means your body produces more cytokines, increasing our immune system’s ability to respond to infections.

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And it's not just our physical health we need to stay on top of.

#knackered #insomnia #cantsleep trend regularly every night on social media and act as a barometer for how coronavirus can and is affecting our sleep and in turn, our mental health.

Sleep and mental health are inextricably linked – during deep sleep, levels of stress hormones such adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are reduced, not only giving the immune system a chance to reboot itself, but also helping to manage our mood, keep our anxiety in check and boost our cognitive performance the next day.

So how can we sleep more soundly during this crisis?

Routine Is Everything

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Sleep is regulated by our internal body clocks, called the circadian rhythm. This natural, internal clock regulates our sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It’s easy to have poor routines without the structure of a normal working day or social engagements: waking up late, eating poorly, not completing any tasks or activities if you’ve been furloughed, or staying up late to finish the work you didn't have time to do in the day because you were tending to your children.

Thus it is important to have a routine: go to bed at the same time each night, wake up at the same time and have your meals at the same time. It sounds simple, but it will reboot your body clock and ensure better quality deep sleep.

Maybe even continue to “commute” during lockdown. Every morning, before you start the day, take a ten minute walk around your house or garden, or even just pace up and down the stairs. In the evening, whether you’ve been working from home or you are partway through that Netflix box set, stop what you’re doing and “head home”; transition your mind from day/work mode. Not just the routine itself, but the exercise (and fresh air, weather permitting) will help you sleep better.

Stay Informed and Productive – But Only To A Point

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It's important we stay up to date with the current situation. However, endlessly scrolling through negative news stories and fomenting conspiracy theories on social media, especially late at night, will stress you out and lead to poor restless sleep.

Also on social media, a narrative has emerged, “Be productive. Make the most of this time”. Yet many of us are working harder than ever. Many are home schooling their children, working from home or just trying to manage all this excess downtime in isolation. Seeing endless posts about baking, learning new languages or exercising intensely can feel stressful if you're struggling to hold it all together. So stay informed and productive, but know when to switch off and relax. Coming out of this with our sanity and health intact, and not being able to speak a new language, will be an accomplishment in itself.

Napping Isn’t A Bad Thing

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To stay healthy we need our recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This helps keep our immune system in fighting shape, and also protect us from other health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. If your sleep schedule is interrupted by the lack of routine during lockdown, try to make up for the lost rest with naps. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each —one in the morning and one in the afternoon—has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.

Don't Forget The Basics

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Despite the huge disruptions taking place, remember to stick to the usual basics of good sleep. As well as establishing a good routine, remember to switch off excess electronics and lights during the night, no caffeine in the evening, drink alcohol in moderation, avoid heavy meals and sugar-rich foods before bed...well, at least on a school night.

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