Sleep and How It Affects Our Immunity

Why is it so crucial that we ALL get plenty of ZzZzZzs? Sleep is an important time for our bodies and minds to rest, repair, and reset from daily tasks. It's entwined with how we function, daily decisions, growth and development, illness, immunity, and much more. With so much uncertainty, stress, and anxiety still present globally due to divided political views, financial strain, racial unrest, and health concerns, sleep and mental health issues are at an all-time high. With all of these concerns at the top of our minds and constantly feeling stressed, this creates a host of biochemical changes in our bodies, which all affect our sleep, and thus our immunity.
According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to be well rested, but the average adult sleeps for less than 7 hours a night. For children, the amount of sleep required varies with their age and stage of development. A February 2019 Healthline article stated that researchers from Germany found in the study that for participants who slept, their T cells (immune cells) showed higher levels of integrin activation than in the T cells of those who were awake. Integrins are a sticky type of protein that allow cells to attach to and kill infected cells. 
Maintaining a healthy immune system is important, so how can we go about getting the sleep we need? Here are some tips: 

  • Taking a warm bath before bed
  • Keeping a cool, dark bedroom free from electronics
  • Winding down with a book (no TV or computer 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime)
  • Consuming no caffeine, sugar, or alcohol 2 or more hours before bedtime
  • Using a “white noise” machine or fan to drown out little sounds
  • Drinking teas like chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, or valerian
  • Using lavender essential oil in a diffuser in your bedroom or on your pillow or temples
  • Trying as best as you can to stick to a normal sleep routine

Also, be sure to consider the root cause of the sleep dilemma. Some nutritional supplements can also help with healthy sleep.

  • Magnesium helps regulate melatonin production. Start with 150-300 mg near bedtime. Magnesium relaxes the  muscles and aids in the sleep process.
  • GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid and inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain. It works by blocking nerve impulses and regulates excitability. So, if you are one who tends to stress about the day, then this will help calm those over-firings, so the brain can wind down. 
  • L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that exerts a relaxing, non-drowsy effect. It boosts alpha brain waves, promoting alert relaxation, and it increases GABA, serotonin, and dopamine levels in the brain. Brew up some decaffeinated green tea, and have it with theanine before bed to help relax.
  • 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) can be transformed into serotonin, then melatonin. The recommended dose to start with is 50 mg. Work your way up from there to the amount that works best for you. **CAUTION- This can interact with certain medications (SSRIs, Tricyclics, MAOIs), so be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner.
  • Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that controls when we fall asleep and wake up. Melatonin helps us fall and stay asleep. And as we age, melatonin production decreases, so a supplement can be a great option. Start with around 2 mg, and see if you need more from there. Doses range from 1 mg - 10 mg.

We must make it a priority to maintain healthy sleep patterns, even though it may be difficult. There are many options available to help support healthy sleep.