The amazing thing about sleep is that you feel refreshed, renewed and completely alive after a good night’s sleep, right? An Irish Proverb says “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” Ancient wisdom all over the world considers “sleep as healing” to the body and mind.
The fast paced gadget driven stressful times in this modern world has actually robbed us of our sleep. Decreased sleep and disruption of the natural circadian rhythms has led to a lot of imbalances in the human body. How quickly our body gets affected by an allergy or by an infection like flu etc. shows us that our body’s immunity has been compromised and imbalanced sleep is one of the main causes for this lowered immunity.
What Happens When We Sleep?
Sleep expert Mark Wu says that sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life which are closely linked to quality of life. Throughout the time we are asleep, the brain cycles repeatedly through 02 different types of sleep: REM (Rapid Eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. As we begin to fall asleep, the first stage we enter is the NREM sleep which has 4 stages where the body starts relaxing the various systems of the body slow down, the repairing of injured tissues start and certain hormones start getting released. The next cycle is the REM sleep which gets longer later in the night. During this cycle energy is provided to the brain and body, brain becomes active, body becomes immobile as muscles are relaxed.
Along with this, there is a dip in cortisol in the beginning of the night. Researches have shown that sleep improves immunity and also balances our appetite by regulating hormones like ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feelings of hunger and fullness.
How Does Sleep Boost Immunity?
Research has shown that during sleep, the immune system releases cytokines, a protein. When the body is fighting an infection or inflammation or is under stress, cytokines increase to help the body. Sleep deprivation decreases the production of cytokines. It is also observed that infection fighting antibodies and cells are reduced if we are sleep deprived.
Research has also shown that sleep can boost the effectiveness of certain specialized immune cells called T-cells. T-cells contribute to the body’s immune system when the body is attacked by any infection or disease. Since adrenaline and prostaglandin levels drop during sleep, it is observed that sleep has a positive impact on the proper and efficient functioning of T-cells which boosts the immune system of the body.
What Makes Us Sleep?
According to Mark Wu, the two main things which regulate sleep are: circadian rhythms and sleep drive. Circadian rhythms are the rhythms controlled by the natural biological clock in the brain. This clock actually reacts to the light which effects the hormone melatonin. Sleep drive is something similar to hunger. The body craves for food when hungry and craves for sleep when tired. Sleep deprivation impacts the brain function. It effects the brain plasticity or the brain’s ability to input. Sleep also helps the removal of waste products from brain cells.
A minimum of 7-9 hrs of sleep is the requirement of an average aged human being. Children require a greater amount of sleep as their body is in the growth phase.
Ayurveda also considers sleep as one of the main pillars of life and health. The appropriate quality and quantity of sleep is as essential for balanced health as is food and air.
During this modern age, where the professional and emotional stress has led to insomnia in large sector of the world’s population, the present scenario of the corona pandemic shows that the immunity of the people has also been compromised severely.
So along with keeping yourself fit with exercises and proper diet, adequate sleep to maintain and strengthen your immunity is also equally important.
Here are some simple tips to improve your quality and quantity of sleep:
- Switch off bright lights—Melatonin, the hormone gets activated only in the dark. This is very important for good sleep. Bright lights disrupt melatonin functioning. So, make sure the lighting in the bed room is soft or completely dark. Even electronic gadgets should be off or on night mode.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day—This habit makes sure that the body is set to its natural circadian rhythm.
- Cool your room down-Overheat disrupts the sleep patterns of a person. Wear light breathable loose comfortable clothes and the temperature in the room is not very cold or very hot. 21-23 degree C is an optimum temperature.
- Avoid any kind of stimulants like caffeine, nicotine late in the day.
- Put off all your gadgets like television, laptops, iPads, mobiles etc. If necessary, just keep some light relaxing music on.
- Avoid large heavy meals in the dinner.
- Make sure the mattress and surroundings are comfortable and does not cause any neck or back pain.
- Do not drink too much of fluids or water before going to bed.
- Foods like almonds, walnuts, kiwis, chamomile, and warm milk with turmeric help provide sound sleep through the night.
- Deep breathing exercises like Pranayama helps increase the oxygen content to the cells of the body, thereby relaxing the various systems including the heart.
- Soft massage to the various reflex points on the palm and sole relaxes the body and induces sleep.
- Do not think of sleep or problems of getting sleep. The anxiety of insomnia or the fear of oversleeping can lead to stress in the body, thereby the person cannot sleep. So, listen to a calming music or read a boring book and get to sleep.
Everyone reacts uniquely and differently in time of crisis. Some get anxious, some get depressed, some afraid and so on. During this time of world crisis of COVID-19 pandemic due to various stressors people are highly stressed and this leads to insomnia in turn to lowering of body’s immunity.
So, make use of this period of lockdowns and isolation, to provide the body the required sleep to heal and relax the organs and systems. By this the immunity power of the body also gets strengthened to face the strong infections spreading around.
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