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How Quality Sleep Supports Your Immunity During A Pandemic

Do you ever think how important your sleep is?

We only ever reflect about sleep when our health is proving to be a struggle.  Yet, sleep plays a crucial role in our waking lives.  It is essential for learning and memory, for mental health and physical well-being including vital restorative powers.1

Sleep is essential for survival.  If you sustain a lack of sleep over time, whether it be a reduction in the sleep you need, or your sleep quality is poor due to waking up multiple times in the night, there is very strong evidence your immune system will be compromised and you are more susceptible to becoming ill.2

Firstly, let’s take a look at Circadian Rhythms, also known as your “biological clock”, or “internal body clock”.  These “built-in” (roughly) 24 hour rhythms are responsible for regulating many bodily functions including body temperature, hormone production, brain wave activity and cell regeneration – so therefore, your mental and physical states. This system not only regulates these important functions, but also the biological function of the sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake cycle can be regarded as the most noticeable demonstration of the Circadian Rhythm.3

Disruption to your Circadian Rhythm usually has little negative effect in the short term (eg. jet-lag),3 however long term, there is strong evidence to support that circadian unrest is intertwined with a suppressed immune system4,5 as well as linked to the sleep disorder of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).6  Additionally, those with OSA are often linked to being overweight or obese and research has associated those affected by OSA7 are at an increased risk of becoming sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold, as well as the key factor of how fast you recover.

So, what is the solution to quality sleep, so that you have a strong healthy immune system?

If you have been diagnosed with OSA and prescribed to use a CPAP machine, this of course is your first line of defence in supporting your Circadian Rhythm to carry out is function. However, there are also other sleep strategies that can assist with the business of sleep and a strong immune system.  Let’s go through them.

1) Increase bright light exposure during the day
Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps with your Circadian Rhythm as we discussed above. This improves daytime energy, as well as night time sleep quality and duration.  If this is not practical, invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs.8,9

2) Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
Blue light, which is what our electronic devices like your television, smartphone and computer emits, in large amounts.  They trick your brain into thinking it is still daytime.10 There are a few solutions:

  • Install an app that blocks the blue light on your smartphone, tablet or computer
  • Wear glasses that block blue light
  • Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed

3) Exercise regularly – but not before bed
Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health.  Be active on most days, preferably all, with the Australian recommended guidelines of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate ‘huffy puffy’ exercise each week during daylight hours.  Although, daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, being physically active too late in the day may be too much of a stimulatory affect and cause you problems with you getting to sleep.11,12

4) Avoid caffeine late in the day
Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and can stay elevated in your blood for 6-8 hours. Therefore, drinking many cups of coffee throughout the day is not recommended and can stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.13

5) Avoid alcohol
Unfortunately, winding down with a glass of wine is more detrimental than you thought. Alcohol is known to increase the symptoms of snoring, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and generally disrupt your sleep pattern. It also alters night time melatonin production, which also is part of your Circadian Rhythm.14

6) Avoid eating late or having any liquids before going to sleep
Eating large meals prior to bed, can lead to indigestion and heartburn (acid reflux), which is also another common complaint of those with OSA.15 Additionally, another complaint is Nocturia, a medical term for night time urination. Although hydration is vital for your health, it’s wise to reduce your fluid intake leading up to your bedtime.16

7) Optimise your bedroom environment
Your body and bedroom temperature can also profoundly affect your quality of sleep. If you didn’t know, the thermostat can make or break your slumber. For some, the temperature has to be just right for an ideal night’s sleep. In general, the suggested bedroom temperature should be between 15 – 21 degrees celcius.17

CPAP users also need to be aware of the issue of ‘rainout’, This occurs when heated air from your CPAP humidifier cools in your tubing and reaches your mask as water, causing you to get a damp face. Adjusting your room temperature to match your CPAP humidifier level will avoid this problem.

And additionally, a dark, quiet environment is the perfect atmosphere to encourage rest.

8) Reduce irregular or long daytime naps
Whilst ‘power naps’ (the quick 40 winks) can be beneficial, long or irregular in the daytime sleeps can confuse your ‘internal body clock’.18,19

9) Try to go to sleep and awake at consistent times
Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid your long-term sleep quality. And because your Circadian Rhythm is on its 24 hour loop, it needs to align itself with sunrise and sunset. Also, the levels of your sleepy hormone melatonin can also be altered.20

10) Supplements
There are many supplements that have been investigated and had success with relaxation and supporting sleep.
They include:

  • Ginko biloba
  • Glycine
  • Valerian root
  • Magnesium
  • L-theanine
  • Lavender

It is advised you check with your healthcare provider before use, as they may disrupt the balanced dosage of prescribed medication.21

So, to summarise. For your body to perform the process of recuperation and repair at its very best, allow quality sleep to be your number one priority. It is vital in maintaining optimal health and a strong healthy immune system.

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