If 2020 has you wondering how you can stay healthy and boost your immune system, you are not alone. People all around the world want to know how they can fortify this vital component of their well-being.
Before we begin, there are a couple of things you ought to know. First, the immune system isn’t an organ, like your heart or lungs. It’s a collection of things, including your spleen, your lymphatic system, bone marrow, white blood cells, antibodies and more. That’s why we call it a system - and it’s a complex one. Which is to say, there’s no single, simple way to make your immune system better than everyone else’s.
But, that’s different than maintaining a balanced immune system, which doctors say you should shoot for. There are plenty of healthy habits to help you do that, like through exercise and diet. There is another important piece to the immunity puzzle that many of us overlook or take for granted - SLEEP.
Want to make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape? Consider the following...
Get enough sleep
Science keeps telling us to get more sleep. It’s not that we don't want to; it’s just life is busy. However, sleep deprivation might be sabotaging your ability to fight off infection and all types of viruses. While you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines. If you’re not sleeping enough, you are actively reducing the production of these disease-busting proteins.
Sleep—Your Internal Body Armor
Given its well-known impact on vigilance, learning, reaction time and mental acuity, sleep loss has long been a topic of concern for military leaders and a focus of research by military scientists. Less widely known, however, is the recent evidence showing that sleep is also critical for maintaining a healthy and effective immune system.
It is now understood that sleep duration is a powerful predictor of infection. In one study, volunteers were exposed to the virus that causes the common cold. Those averaging less than seven hours of sleep per night had a three-fold greater risk of infection than those who slept eight hours or more; for those who consistently slept less than five hours a night, the risk was 4 ½ times greater.
In addition, limited but exciting evidence from animal studies suggesting that sleep not only helps protect against initial infection, but also plays a direct role in aiding recovery from infectious illness.
Lt. Col. Vincent Capaldi, director of the Behavioral Biology Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research explains, “These studies show that sleep can enable and enhance your body’s ability to establish physical, cognitive and now immunological dominance.”
It’s All about Consistency
Whether you are trying to turn around chronic problems with sleep or deal with getting a good night’s rest, practicing good sleep hygiene is essential. Here are some strategies for a 24-hour-a-day practice:
- Get up at the same time every day no matter what, even when you go to bed later than usual. This is especially important now when normal schedules are disrupted.
- Get exposure to sunlight. Take a walk or at least sit outside. Exposure to light in the morning — even on a cloudy day — resets your brain clock. Without it, your circadian rhythm and sleep-wake schedule will be delayed.
- Limit caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Exercise in the late afternoon or evening, but at least four hours before bedtime. Cooling down the body after exercising promotes good sleep.
- At night, use the night mode on smart phones and tablets. But avoid LED screens and monitors of any kind within one to two hours of bedtime, especially nowadays when much of what we are watching is anxiety-provoking.
- Go to bed when you’re ready to sleep. Try to set a bedtime that will get you seven or eight hours of sleep. But if you’re not sleepy, don’t get into bed until you are. Don’t worry if you won’t get seven or eight hours of sleep on any given night. That just makes it more difficult to fall asleep. You can make up for sleep loss in naps the next day if need be.
Remember: Even if you do come down with a cold or virus, you’ll be able to bounce back faster if your body is well-rested. If your sleep is a chronic issue, get your health back on track ASAP. Call Alaska Sleep Clinic today to speak with one of our board-certified sleep specialists in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Soldotna or Wasilla. Learn more at the 4th most visited website for sleep education in the World at www.alaskasleep.com.