We all know too well that flu season is lurking around the corner. And if everyelse around you seems to be getting sick, besides drowning yourself in oil of oregano, there’s one other easy thing you can do to make sure it doesn’t hit you: sleep.
If you want to be like that one person that’s always bragging about how they never get sick, it’s something you need to make sure you’re getting enough of.
Sleep is one of the easiest, most underrated, and most powerful things you can do to help not just your immune system, but your entire body.
And even if you’re that person that says they sleep 8 hours a night, how you sleep may make all the difference. If you’re sleeping the recommended 7-9 hours and still waking up groggy and feeling unrested, the length of time you sleep isn’t going to ward off the impending doom of sickness that’s around the corner.
REM v. Non-REM sleep
Each sleep cycle consists of two prominent phases: rapid-eye movement (REM) and non-REM, which are cycled through during every 90-minute sleep cycle.
REM sleepREM sleep is entered towards the end of each 90-minute sleep cycle. It is characterized by desynchronized brain wave activity, muscle atonia (weakness), and bursts of rapid eye movements. REM sleep is where dreaming happens, but also where memory consolidation happens.
You spend the majority of your night in one of the four phases of non-REM sleep. Stage one and two are light sleep where awakenings are easier, whereas stages three and four are considered deep sleep, and are where your body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.
If you’re not getting adequate deep sleep, your body doesn’t have the opportunity to repair itself from the damage ensued during the day. And if you add alcohol into that mix (more on this below), stage three and four take the biggest hits.
How sleep boosts your immune system
During sleep, the two body systems that function as our control centers--the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)--are downregulated and there is a resulting decline in levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. On the other hand, mediators of cell growth, differentiation, and restoration, including pituitary growth hormone (GH) and prolactin, as well as melatonin, steeply increase during sleep.
Despite their vastly different functions, they all appear to work synergistically to boost immune function. They act as pro-inflammatory signals to support immune cell activation, proliferation, and differentiation, along with the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. And these cytokines are important for the mounting of adaptive immune responses.
Sleep also appears to be important for forming antigenic memory and curtailing a chronic state of low-grade inflammation. When you’re sleep deprived, these cytokines aren’t released and your immunity suffers.
If you want to avoid the common cold, you need to be getting enough deep, restorative sleep.
Get a better sleep
If you’ve somehow managed to run into the nasty flu going around (or even if you haven’t), here are some tips to help you get the deep, restful sleep your body craves to keep your immune system running on high.
Ditch the devices before bed
Blue light emitted from any sort of device--cell phones, tablets, laptops, TVs--all impede on your body’s ability to produce melatonin. The body has a natural clock called the circadian rhythm, which runs on patterns of light and dark.
When the body senses darkness, it starts to decrease cortisol production and increase melatonin production to get you ready for sleep. Body temperature also starts to decline at this time. However, when we use devices before bed, the artificial light emitted from them starts to confuse the body’s natural rhythms; this influx of light blunts melatonin production and instead causes secretion of cortisol, which wakes you up.
To avoid falling into this trap, limit your device use to 2-3 hours before bed, and after that, put them away! If need be, however, install light-altering software or invest in a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.
Turn down your room temperature
It’s sometimes tempting to crank up the heat in your house because you’re not feeling so hot, but you actually will benefit from doing the opposite. Your body temperature naturally falls at night and to facilitate that, keep your room at a comfortable temperature, or even on the slightly cooler side.
The optimal sleeping temperature is somewhere between 60-67F or 15.6-19.4C.
Block out all light sources
Just like we said with devices, light coming from any lamps or lights in your house (i.e. any artificial light sources) will do the same thing. While it’s not realistic to expect you to change every bulb in your house or live in complete darkness once the sun goes down, do your best to avoid turning on bright lights.
Instead, opt for red bulbs, salt lamps, or candles that emit a red-orange hue that doesn’t impede with melatonin secretion. Not to mention, they’re super cozy and can set a nice mood in the room!
You’ll often hear people bragging about how they sleep soooo well after having a few drinks, and while they may think that, it’s not really true.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but interestingly enough, it’s also really effective at suppressing melatonin production by directly affecting your circadian rhythm and reducing the ability of your biological clock to respond to light cues that keep it in sync. Research shows that consuming alcohol one hour before bed can reduce melatonin production by up to 20%!
Not only that, but alcohol also cuts back on the amount of REM sleep you’re getting. And even though you may be in deep sleep, which you’re probably thinking is a good thing, REM is where the magic happens. During the first half of the night when your body is metabolizing the alcohol, you spend more time in deep sleep and less time in REM . Add during the second half of your night, after the alcohol is metabolized, something called a "rebound effect” happens whereby the sedative effects have worn off, and you transition into a lighter sleep where more frequent awakenings occur.
If you’ve been struggling to get enough sleep or enough quality sleep, Herbaland’s Sweet Dreams gummies are something you should invest in. They’re a blend of melatonin, L-theanine, lemon baclm, and vitamin B6 to reset your body’s sleep-wake cycle, induce calmness and relaxation, and help you get the sleep you deserve.