Is Insomnia Harming Your Immune System? (Guest Post)
Posted on Friday, August 6th, 2010
I recently heard a celebrity doctor say 7 hours of sleep per night is ideal; more than that, we are shortening our life spans. But not long after, I read an article in a health journal advising 8 hours of sleep for optimal health.
Obviously, there are conflicting views about how much sleep will help us heal, remain healthy and perhaps extend our lives.
Some people can get 6 to 7 hours of sleep, seem to function well all day and continue without fatigue, while others who sleep the same amount feel tired, look tired and are foggy-minded and generally irritable. It’s the latter who especially need to be aware of their own well-being. Why? They’re the ones who will first come down with a cold or flu, their body unable to fully recuperate through sleep.
By knowing and honoring our own ideal sleep rhythm, we’re better equipped to remain healthy and avoid not only infections that might be going around but more serious diseases, as well. Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel, MD, reviewed studies and noted a correlation between sleep-regulated hormones melatonin and cortisol, and cancer. Cortisol helps regulate the immune system response, while melatonin may have an antioxidant effect on cells, which can prevent the damage that can lead to cancer.
This is just one of many links between sleep deprivation and immunity.
So what are we to do if we know we’re not getting the sleep we need? We can start by understanding our own true “sleep nature.” Here are some things to consider:
- Think back to when you were a child and what your sleep cycle was like then. On weekends, would you stay up late and sleep in the next day? Or were you falling asleep in front of the television by 9:00 and waking early the following morning? Many of us have had to change our true sleep rhythm in order to get along in life, and it’s worth getting in touch with it again.
- Are you at your best during the day if you go to bed by 10:00 pm, or, can you stay up past midnight and feel great the next day?
- If given a choice, would you rise with the sun or sleep late into the morning?
- Is your energy highest in the morning? Or does it increase in the evening?
- How sensitive are you to judgment around sleep patterns? For example, do you hear criticism from a society that says you should not be ready for bed as early as 9:00 pm, but you shouldn’t stay in bed very late in the morning either?
- Do you like to take naps?
- Do you like to be up doing things in the middle of the night?
- At what time during the day do you get a lull in your energy?
Becoming more familiar with your sleep nature can help you accept the way your own body wants to rest. And it does want to rest, very deeply, because this is when it heals itself, rejuvenates and recharges, and mends what needs mending. I believe the best, most renewing sleep happens when you are in sync and mindful of your natural sleep traits, the ones that truly suit you. Perhaps it is easy to lose sight of what they are because of the structured work and school day. But if you’ve had lowered immunity, it’s completely allowable to adjust your schedule to honor yourself and your rhythm.
There are many ways to get to sleep without the use of drugs and other artificial methods. The following suggestions have worked for many people, even during times of intense stress.
- Be sure to get adequate magnesium and calcium, in proper balance, through a source or supplement that is food-based, not synthetic. This will help calm your nervous system.
- Try an L-theanine supplement. This is an amino acid that calms the mind. Studies have shown it to help people sleep better, if not necessary longer.
- Adaptogens such as ashwaganda help reduce cortisol levels to lessen stress and help you sleep. I would get this through a licensed practitioner so the right dose can be determined for you.
- Calms Forte is a homeopathic remedy that can help calm the nerves and induce sleep without the heavy feeling of sleeping pills. It can be found in any natural food store.
- Drink chamomile tea in the evening.
- Walk daily, if only for 20-minutes.
- Avoid caffeine during the day, or drink green tea, but only in the mornings.
- Calm your mind and spirit in the evenings by turning off the computer, telephone, and television at least an hour before bedtime.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- At the end of the day, write down your thoughts, feelings, worries and concerns to get them out of your head and down on paper.
- Clear your bedroom of clutter, including computers and electronics. Remove papers and extra books from your nightstand.
- Stop answering the phone or having animated conversations in the evenings if these activate your mind too much.
- Meditate before bed or read a novel to relax and clear your mind from the day.
If you still don’t sleep well through the night after trying the above, see an acupuncturist, herbalist, naturopath, homeopath or holistic practitioner to assist you so you can come back into balance, sleep soundly, and keep your immunity strong.
– Christina Grant, PhD