Is sleep the cure?

I think we all know that making sure we eat healthily and get enough exercise can really help us fight off infection.  Of course, during this pandemic, we’re even more conscious of keeping healthy and being in optimum condition to fight off any infections.  But, did you know that sleep is just as important (if not more so) than nutrition and keeping active when it comes to fighting infection?

Well, it is! When we gain a good quality and quantity of sleep (regardless of our age), this gives our bodies the opportunity to generally rest and replenish, but especially if we’ve contracted an infection.

Potentially the less sleep we get, the higher our risk of contracting an infection in the first place as the hormones and proteins responsible for regulating our immune system are all out of kilter.

Of course, I’m not saying that if you don’t get a decent night’s sleep you won’t be able to fight off infection at all, it just won’t be as quick and effective!  Not sure about you, but I’d rather err on the safe side of caution and make sure I’m in tip-top shape to rid myself of any nasties!

Essentially, while we’re sleeping, it’s giving our bodies the downtime it needs (without all the other demands put upon it during waking hours) to rest and recuperate.  Which could also explain why when we are sick, we can feel generally yuck and super sleepy – our body’s telling us that it needs some distraction-free time out to heal itself.

One of the hormones that can make a really big difference is cortisol (although there are many other hormones and proteins cursing through our bodies that also affect our combined sleep and immunity).  

Cortisol could be seen as our early morning cup of coffee to help perk us up, with it’s opposer melatonin perhaps our calming mug of camomile tea which helps us switch off and get some well deserved sleep.  These two hormones have a merry dance throughout the day, with one (theoretically) at its highest point while the other is at its lowest.

Apart from being our morning cuppa, cortisol is also our stress hormone, so when we’re stressed or feeling threatened (‘‘fight or flight’) cortisol surges through our system.  During that surge our body is so intent on dealing with it (wondering if there’s a sabre toothed tiger or wooly mammoth prowling nearby) that it’s not concentrating on sending essential nutrients to our immune system and isn’t going to let us get to sleep easily either.

The longer we’re in this stressed state, which can last for weeks or months (and can be as a result of sleep deprivation as well as just plain old stress), the weaker our immune system becomes.  So not only are we more prone to infection, our immune system can’t fit the infection as effectively either.

One of the best ways of counteracting this stress reaction is trying to relax and get some sleep (yes, easier said than done, I know!).  Stress itself is a huge barrier to sleeping well (you probably didn’t need me to tell you that though).  So giving ourselves the permission and opportunity to relax, whether that’s doing something we enjoy like just snuggling up with a good book or practising mindfulness or meditation, can really help.  Or even better, get out into nature, especially in the morning, soak up some sun on your skin and enjoy some uninterrupted ‘You’ time.

Life’s stressful enough at the best of times, but at the moment, more than ever, make sure you take some time for yourself, take some deep breaths, relax and aim for 7 – 9 hours sleep a night.

I’m always happy to share ideas on relaxing activities, so why not get in touch if you’d like to know more?

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