Boosting Immunity with Sleep
Welcome to Week 1 of our Rock the Walk 2020 Challenge!
We're all about boosting your immunity during this year's challenge. For this first week of our wellness challenge, we're focusing on rest and SLEEP.
Sleep...everybody needs it! When you don’t get enough, it affects how you function when you’re awake, affecting your memory, concentration and alertness. Over time, a lack of sleep can even increase your risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It’s not just about how much sleep you get each night; your sleep quality makes a difference too. Having a good night’s sleep allows your body to do important things like brain cell maintenance and processing things that happened during the day. If that wasn’t enough reason to make sleep a priority, did you know that getting enough high-quality sleep can make a difference in your body’s ability to fight viruses? During a pandemic and at the start of the flu season, sleep can help keep your body’s immune system strong and ready to fight off things that could make you sick.
You can improve your sleep
You probably already know that wanting to get a good night’s sleep doesn’t mean you’ll get a good night’s sleep! But, you may have more control than you realize. Just as your sleep affects your waking hours, the things you do while you’re awake affect how you sleep. The good news is that you can make some changes during waking hours that will improve your sleep.
Improving your sleep...during normal times
Getting consistent, good sleep is more likely to happen when you set yourself up for success. Here are some general guidelines for developing good sleep habits.
- Set a sleep schedule
Schedule your day so that you have at least 7 hours of sleep. Keep your schedule as consistent as possible, so that you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Create a nightly routine
While you’re scheduling sleep into your day, include 30 minutes for winding down. Turn off electronics. Dim your lights and try to relax. That will help you fall asleep faster.
- Practice health habits during the day
Exercise during the day will help you sleep at night. But, also be mindful of what and when you eat and drink. Food, caffeine, alcohol or nicotine too close to bedtime can make a big impact on your sleep.
- Create a sleep environment
Bright lights and loud noises will make it harder to sleep. Neck aches from bad pillows can wake you up in the night. Think about how you can make your bedroom a quiet, peaceful, dark place that promotes sleep and relaxation.
For more specific tips and strategies, go to sleepfoundation.org.
These are not normal times...
If you haven’t heard, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And while more sleep can help us fight viruses, the cultural and physical realities of the pandemic can make that sleep harder to get. If you’re finding less time to sleep or that the quality of your sleep might be worse than usual, here are a few reasons why that might be happening:
- Your sleep can be affected by stress and anxiety. The more stress and anxiety you experience during your waking hours, the more difficult it might be for you to fall (and stay) asleep. For many people, the pandemic has caused new stressors, such as decreased financial resources and worry about your family’s health. But, even if those have not affected you, normal daily routines, such as grabbing a gallon of milk on the way home from work, are now more difficult. The need to rethink how to go about your day safely brings additional anxiety and stress for most people. If that’s you, you are NOT alone!
- Your sleep is better when you keep a regular schedule, so your body gets into a predictable rhythm. During the pandemic, when many are working and learning at home, it can be easy to experience schedule creep- going to bed later and later each night. Sometimes that means getting up later and later each morning. Sometimes that means getting less sleep.
- Your sleep can be affected by screen time. During the pandemic, more of us are spending more time in front of a screen. With virtual meetings, shopping online to avoid crowds and even watching more TV in place of social gatherings, we are relying more on screens. Throw working and learning at home (on a screen) into the mix and the blue light given off by screens and bright flashing lights can make sleep more difficult.
- Your sleep can be affected by depression and isolation. Spending so much time apart from friends and family can increase feelings of isolation and depression. If your loved ones are considered vulnerable, then the people you might have leaned on for help and support prior to COVID might not be able to help now. Other loved ones might live in another state (or country) and seeing them during the pandemic is not an option. Not having your support system available can increase feelings of isolation and depression, making sleep more difficult.
- Having less alone time- You can’t see family and friends like you used to, but you also have your immediate family home more than ever. That can mean less downtime for you to mentally reboot.
- Change and shuffling- You only have to look at schools to understand that the pandemic has forced people to re-think systems, develop back-up systems, rearrange plans, etc. And with each change, we all have to adjust our own schedules and to-do lists. Change is a normal part of life. But, during the pandemic, things seem to change one day, change again the next, switch back to the original plan the next day, and then scrap everything and require yet another plan. Recognize the mental exhaustion that the constant shuffling can have.
- Changes to your health and wellness- Getting less physical exercise can impact your health and wellness. With gyms closed and fitness classes canceled, some people have had trouble getting enough physical activity. Couple that with lots of time at home and you might be experiencing weight gain, which can also affect your sleep.
- News and social media- Spending time on news sites and social media has helped keep us informed about the virus. But, many people report that the increase in news and social media use has increased their feelings of negativity and anxiety.
What you can do...
All of these and more can make high-quality sleep more difficult during a pandemic. But, in order to boost your immunity, you want to improve your sleep, right? So what can you do?
- First, acknowledge all the effects that the pandemic has had on you and your family. You are definitely not alone. But, also, give yourself a break; these are not normal times, so do not hold yourself to your usual expectations.
- Let go of your “normal” schedule. Instead, create a new pandemic schedule that takes into consideration the unique circumstances you are facing. If you’re no longer commuting to work, that’s extra time that you now have for some of your new tasks (like shopping during non-peak hours). Remember to include time for activities that improve your sleep quality and amount of time for sleep.
- As much as possible, go back to the basics. Even during a pandemic, setting a sleep schedule, having a nighttime routine and practicing healthy habits are possible. They might look a little different, but you still need them.
- If you’re finding that the stress, isolation and anxiety are too much, reach out for help. You do not have to do this alone. Call your provider to find out what your options are.
- Finally, if you find that your sleep is difficult and you’re not sure what to do, call your provider. Don’t assume that your difficulty sleeping is pandemic-related. Sometimes, people have physical problems (such as Sleep Apnea) that affect sleep and need to be treated. Many people have avoided seeing their provider over the last 6 months, delaying necessary treatments or diagnoses. Don’t let that be you.
Your sleep is more important than ever. It affects your mental health, physical health and immune system. Getting a good night’s sleep tonight (and every night) is one way to protect yourself against infection. If you’ve never made sleep a priority, now is a good time to begin!