At this time of year we think we need to double up on vitamins and run out to by immunity-boosting shots, but there’s an elephant in the room as far as your immune system is concerned. And, that elephant is SLEEP. Could lack of sleep be messing with your immune system? As we head into flu season when those we need to put our focus on shoring up our immune systems so that we’re ready to fight a good fight!
There are a lot of ways that we can boost our immune system, especially by eating certain foods, but the perhaps the hardest thing for many of us, is lack of sleep.
You know me, I’m a stickler for evidence-based science, so I put on my researcher’s hat in the hope of proving my hypothesis (yes, I’m trying to sound ever-so scientific now because I am taking a health science degree!!). My hypothesis: Lack of Sleep Leads To A Weakened Immune System. I set out to test this with an observational study of my family! Although I didn’t create a bar graph, I was able to pin point the times that both my husband and daughter have gotten way less sleep than they should (they both have spells of insomnia), and I found that even a week of less than 7 hours sleep, led to them getting sick. Then I conducted some in-depth research and discovered a recent study by the American Journal of Physiology that found that nocturnal sleep reduces the amount of T cell subsets – this basically means that immunity is improved during nocturnal sleep. Even more interesting to me are the studies that demonstrate that even a modest loss of sleep for a single night could increase inflammation, which is now known to play a role in cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. All this to say that there are no lack of studies making the connection between a good night’s sleep and having a strong immune system.
So, getting enough shut-eye, particularly during the Winter months, is key in strengthening your immune system. 7+ hours a night is optimum. Easier said than done for so many of my friends and family, so here are 5 tips to help you get to sleep, and to get you to stay asleep.
- Take a drug-free supplement: I’ve started taking Natrol’s Melatonin + 5-HTP I am currently working with Natrol (full disclosure), to get word out about some of their excellent products. Their Melatonin* is a staple in my bathroom cabinet for sleep. It’s also a staple in my suitcase when I travel back and forth to the U.K. because it’s the only effective method I’ve found to date to deal with Jet Lag (which I used to suffer badly from). The thing that really interests me about this Natrol supplement is that it contains an 5-HTP. This is a molecule that your body produces from L-Tryptophan, an amino acid found in food. It converts to serotonin, which is the “happiness” hormone. If you have been particularly stressed, your serotonin levels may be low. This is turn could really affect your sleep, or more specifically your getting to sleep. This is the genius of this particular supplement. The 5-HTP will help calm your racing/worrying mind down enough to get to sleep, and the melatonin will help you to stay asleep. Be mindful to take the supplement 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
- Eat Kiwi Fruits: Studies have shown that kiwi fruits can help you get to sleep and stay asleep too! Eat one Kiwi fruit an hour before bed – it could make a huge difference.
- Turn off all back-lit devices at least 2 hours before bed. This is soooooooo important. There’s little point in taking any of the other steps I mention if you are continuing to stimulate your pineal gland by way of artificial light. Fortunately most of our devices (both IOS and Android), now have a night-shift mode, which changes the back light (please make sure you know how to use it on your phone and tablet). But best case scenario is to honestly switch off all devices (and the TV) one-to-two hours before bed. Read a book, do some gentle yoga, listen to music – go back to the good old days when we were way more in tune with the natural day-to-night light cycles.
- Try my Sleepy Time tea. This is my favorite thing to sip on before bed.
- Finally try my sleepy time spray. All my friends swear by it.
All that being said, if you aren’t getting your full quota of sleep, and none of the above tips work, at least take an afternoon nap, or learn to meditate. By hook or by crook, allow your body the rest it needs to regenerate and keep your immune system strong.
*Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which controls your circadian rhythms. The natural production of melatonin in your body will rise (and if affected by light), in the mid-late evening. This is why night shift workers and long-haul travelers may suffer from impaired circadian rhythms. Interestingly, Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant. If you are considering taking a Melatonin supplement, please check with your doctor first, especially if you are on certain medications, specifically blood-thinners, immunosuppressants, diabetes meds or birth control pills).