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The importance of sleep for your immune system

The importance of sleep for your immune system

I wish I could sleep as soundly as Milo, our Golden Retriever!

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been suffering from insomnia. I’ve always been a light sleeper, but worrying about current events is causing havoc with my sleep.

Light and dark

Our sleep cycles are regulated by our circadian rhythm, which is governed by light and darkness. When it's light, our bodies think we should be awake, and when it's dark, our bodies want to sleep. There are two hormones involved in our sleep cycles, and these are the same hormones that play a role in how our weight is gained and distributed: melatonin (for sleep) and cortisol (for awake-time).

The stress hormone

If you don’t get enough sleep for several nights in a row, your body will begin to produce cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol is made by your adrenal gland, nestled right above your kidneys. It helps the body release fuels to counteract stressors (such as illness or injury). But emotional or mental stress doesn’t typically require the use of extra fuel so high cortisol concentrations can increase abdominal fat … that may explain why my jeans feel a bit tighter!

Your cortisol levels will be lowest at night; however, if you’re feeling stressed in the day, this impairs your ability to get a good night’s sleep … and that can be stressful!

You know how it feels to be sleep-deprived – everything is fuzzy around the edges. It’s easy to feel irritable and find it hard to focus. You may find yourself snacking more than usual because your body is searching for energy wherever it can see it.

The importance of sleep

Humans sleep a lot … about one-third of our lives. When you are truly asleep, you're in an anabolic state and all of your systems – immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular, reap the benefits. During the deepest parts of REM sleep (when you are dreaming), the immune system is bolstered, tissues are repaired, and bones and muscles re-built. Lack of sleep has been found to contribute to a weaker immune system, as well as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. A weakened immune system is the last thing we need right now.

Unplug, unplug, unplug

Modern technology doesn’t help sleep. Electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops, televisions) emit blue light that has been found to interfere with our melatonin production … suppressing the hormone that helps you sleep isn’t the best night-time strategy!

Create a night-time ritual

After getting ready for the next day, get quiet and prepare your body for rest by doing the following:

  1. Stop using your electronics at least an hour before bed.
  2. Close the curtains or blinds.
  3. Set your alarm.
  4. Prepare for bed – make your bed your sanctuary … not a place that holds are your dirty clothes or computer!
  5. Brush your teeth.
  6. Wash your face – take care of your skin. I shower before I get into bed because I like to wash the day off my whole body.
  7. Straight to bed! Turn off the lights … don’t check your phone!!

Sleep is as essential to your health as nutrition and fitness. It’s when your body powers down so that it can repair, restore and replenish ... some of these functions ONLY happen when you’re asleep.

So, embrace this restoration period for your mind and body. It will make you stronger, help you work through your stresses, so you wake-up refreshed, full of energy and mentally healthy to conquer a brand new day.