Why Sleep Is the Best Thing You Can Do For Your Immune System
Right now many of us will be struggling to sleep at night due to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. We had a chat with A.H. Beard’s resident sleep expert, Dr Carmel Harrington, to understand more about the relationship between sleep and immunity and get some handy tips for those struggling to get the zzz’s in.
“In the face of COVID-19 it is essential that we stay in the best health possible. This includes ensuring that you get the right amount of sleep every night”, says Dr Harrington. Although the right amount of sleep varies between people, adults typically require between 7-9 hours each night. According to Dr Harrington, “It is while we sleep that our immune system sends Natural Killer Cells around the body, giving us the chance to fight foreign viruses and bacteria.”
“When we don’t get sufficient sleep, our Natural Killer Cell activity can drop by a whopping 50%, leaving us vulnerable to disease and infection”, Dr Harrington reveals. “In fact, those with sleep issues are not only more susceptible to cold and flu; they have less robust responses to vaccinations and a reduced ability to build up antibodies to infection”.
DR HARRINGTON’S 3 PILLAR ADVICE
Sleep, diet and exercise form the three pillars of health. These pillars work together simultaneously and without quality rest, a healthy diet and regular movement, we cannot reach an optimum level of health and wellbeing. Whilst it is always vital that we pay particular attention to the three pillars, the current pandemic calls for changes in the way we approach self-care. In addition to the hygienic changes (particularly the frequency and quality of hand washing and efforts to not touch one’s face), Dr Harrington outlines further things we need to pay special attention to:
1. A strict sleep routine
“For those struggling to sleep in the face of stress and uncertainty, I would advise a strict sleep routine”, says Dr Harrington. “With most people now working from home, routine seems to go out the door. We can get up late if we like, hanging around in our pyjamas and avoiding exercise. While this is okay for a day or two, the body thrives on routine. We need to ensure that we get up at the same time every morning. Once your alarm goes off, expose yourself to sunlight and start your day. 16 hours after we wake up we are ready to go back to sleep again. Make sure you’re getting up early enough so that you’re not falling asleep too late at night”.
2. Develop, or maintain, an exercise regime
“For both physical and mental health, it is important that we develop and maintain an exercise routine”, says Dr Harrington. “This gives structure to the day, and, when done in the morning, it means that we start the day off with an achievement and positive mindset. When possible, leave the house for a walk or run; just 30 minutes will do a world of good!” There is currently a wealth of at-home online workout content available. From influencer IGTV tutorials available, to our very own Fitness First At Home portal, you’re spoiled for choice. Dr Harrington recommends that, rather than spending unnecessary hours in front of the television, people schedule in a time each day for exercise using outdoor areas as much as possible. “Not only will this be better for you mentally, it will ensure you don’t roll out of isolation having lost all progress you’ve made at the gym!”
“One of the most important things we need to be doing during this time is to look after our mental health,” Dr Harrington reveals. “I’d heavily recommend people do yoga in the evening. At the same time each evening do some yoga practices to induce your parasympathetic system and allow you to relax and settle down”. Not sure where to start? Dr Harrington recommends Yoga Nidra, a guided meditation that is known to aid with stress relief and sleep. “Another thing we need to pay attention to is the amount of news we’re consuming”, notes Dr Harrington. “If we continuously scroll the Internet and listen to radio and television shows talking about coronavirus, we’re going to become increasingly stressed and in turn lose a lot of sleep. Your rising stress levels won’t change what’s going on in the world, so choose one time in the day to get across new regulations and changes, and then switch off.” At a time when self-care is of more importance than ever, take advantage of the extra time at home and develop healthy routines that you can build into your daily life once this period is over.