7 Practical Steps to Better Sleep (and a Better Immune System)

These are uncertain times. We don’t know when life will get back to “normal”, what’s going to happen to our businesses, or even when we can host the ever-so-essential get together with friends. All of this is stressful and the first thing to suffer when we are under stress is our sleep. 

Sleep and Stress

You can’t really talk about either stress or sleep without also mentioning the other. Poor sleep can lead to higher stress levels just as higher stress levels can lead to poor sleep. On the flipside of this however, better sleep can contribute to decreased stress levels. Whilst we can’t really address the external “stressors” of 2020, we can certainly look to strategies that will minimize our internalization of these stressors. In doing so, we can actually improve in many areas of our life including our mood, our relationships, our motivation and focus on work tasks, and most importantly our immune health. 

Sleep and the Immune System 

Sleep is necessary for our immune systems to run efficiently. Good quality sleep allows our bodies time to fully assess any threats, and deal with them in a timely manner. One of the ways sleep supports the immune system is through encouraging T Cell production. T Cells are white blood cells that play an important role in how the immune system responds to viruses. When functioning properly, T Cells are involved in attacking and destroying virus-carrying cells. Good quality sleep helps ensure that our T Cells are up for the job. 

Another way sleep improves our immune system is through improving the response time to infections. It’s important that our bodies pick up threats to our health early so that we can mount a response and get rid of it before it has time to take hold. A lack of sleep not only makes us feel physically sluggish but can lead to a delayed immune response time. 

Whilst one or two bad nights in a row may not have a significant effect, long term sleep deprivation has been shown to increase our chances of picking up unwanted infections and allowing them to take hold.

Here are our 7 Practical Steps to Better Sleep:

  1. Establish a Routine. Wake up at the same time every day no matter what (even if you go to bed later than usual). Forming a routine helps our bodies establish a clear sleep-wake cycle, allowing our sleep and wake hormones to naturally be secreted at the right time of day. 
  2. Get into the sun. Use our allotted time outdoors and take a walk or at least find a sunny spot to sit in. Exposure to light in the morning (even on a cloudier day) provides us with vitamin D and resets our brain clock – telling us it’s officially daytime. Without this reset, our circadian rhythms and sleep-wake schedule will be delayed.
  3. Set Aside Some Worry Time (if you need it). Set this time aside earlier in the day and limit yourself to this time frame – once you’ve worried about it, you move on for the rest of the day and don’t allow your thoughts to head down that path again. This will help you have a clearer mind when you go to bed, because you’ve already worried about it for the day! 
  4. Exercise. Being cooped up at home means we are living more sedentary lives than ever before. Moving our bodies helps us to feel better, think clearer and de-stress. It also helps us feel physically tired at the end of the day, which enables us to sleep better. Make use of all of our incredible local gyms, pilates instructors, yoga instructors and more offering online classes and get plugged in. Make sure you exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime however so that your body has enough time to cool down (which also promotes better sleep). 
  5. Have a Caffeine Routine (if you drink caffeinated coffee or tea). Caffeine after midday can interfere with your ability to fall asleep that night. Caffeine is the stimulant a lot of us need to power through our work demands and workouts. However we don’t want that same effect when the sun sets. Keep your caffeine as part of your morning routine, but switch to decaf coffee or herbal teas after midday.
  6. Get Un-Plugged. Being constantly “plugged in” is the plague of modern times. We are bombarded by our devices with both “good” and “bad” information 24/7. It’s too easy to fall down the rabbit hole and lose yourself in real news, fake news, someone else’s wonderful life, memes and more. Before you know it, hours have gone by. Our bodies physically respond to all of this overload and struggle to unwind after being exposed. Receiving all of these updates is stressful. Coupled with the blue light emitted by these devices it’s no wonder we then battle to fall asleep. Blue light is the same wavelength light that we view in the morning sunrise and tells our bodies to wake up and get ready for the day. It inhibits our melatonin production. So, aim to cut back in general on the unnecessary (i.e. mostly social media). Switch off at least 2 hours before bedtime so that your natural melatonin secretion can kick in and your body can begin preparing for sleep.
  7. Establish a Work Zone. When we physically leave home, travel to, and then arrive at work our brains are better able to switch from “home mode” into “work mode”. The same goes for when we clock out and head home. The lines are completely blurred these days! This inability to “clock out” and head home means we carry our work stress on into the evenings which can interfere with sleep. The best way to combat this is to establish (to the best of your ability) a “work zone” and working hours in your day. Just like you would normally, get up and physically leave the “home zones” and enter your “work zone”. To this same end, never do work on your bed (or in your bedroom if you can avoid it). Your bed is your sanctuary for sleep.  

Supplements  

For additional support getting your sleep pattern established, there are some supplements you can consider adding to your routine:

  • Magnesium: this mineral is effective in relaxing muscle tension and tightness, as well as soothing nervous tension and stress. Try an Epsom salt bath (rich in magnesium) or take magnesium tablets before bed. 
  • 5-Htp: provides the precursor to melatonin, which is our body’s natural sleep inducer. Best taken before bed.
  • Glycine: an amino acid found in large quantities in collagen, glycine improves sleep quality when taken before bed.
  • Herbs: passionflower, chamomile, Californian poppy and valerian root all help support the nervous system and may aid in restoring normal sleep patterns.

Final Thoughts

While we cannot control what’s going on in the world right now, we can control our response to it all. These external stressors may be increasing right now, but we have control over how much we internalise. Take care of yourself by first taking care of your sleep. You’ll find that your stress levels decrease significantly when you are sleeping better, and your immune system will be primed for success.