As the call to slow the spread of COVID-19 continues to impact everyday lives, thinking about ways to boost our immune systems for those weekly trips to the grocery store makes sense. One major factor in immune system health and efficacy might not be one you think about too often: sleep.
Sleep is the key to maintaining or boosting healthy immune systems, says Dr. Jan McBarron, an award-winning health care professional who has worked as a Registered Nurse before becoming a Medical Doctor. When we sleep, our bodies produce proteins called cytokines. Cytokines target infections and inflammation, making them essential to immune system health. Not enough sleep means fewer cytokines, making a fight with even the average flu virus a challenging endeavor. To make matters worse, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2016, says Dr. McBarron, more than one third of Americans do not get enough sleep. Add the complication of a pandemic, and chances are that anxiety, stress, and a change in routine are keeping people up at night.
There are things you can do to help you get a better night’s sleep, Dr. McBarron assures us. In fact, these methods can even help you feel more energetic during the day.
There are easy and quick exercises anyone can do at home with just their bodyweight, says Dr. McBarron. No equipment necessary! Try some free routines on YouTube or consider downloading an app that can guide you through the process. Yoga is an excellent option for those living in small spaces or those with physical limitations.
Exercise should become an important part of your routine during the lockdown. It has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, the hormones responsible for feelings of calm and happiness. Physical activity also helps the body fall into a deeper sleep at night by expelling more energy during the day. You may not realize it, but going out into the world actually requires a good amount of energy and now that we’re staying home, we have a little extra left over, which can make getting to sleep trickier than usual.
Most adults should get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night, says Dr. McBarron. But few of us do. If you are working from home or happen to be working in essential services, you may still find it hard to get those hours. When you don’t, your body is operating on a sleep deficit, which can decrease cognitive function as well as make your immune system weaker. You will feel sleepy during the day, throwing your circadian rhythm off, and effectively making it harder to sleep at night.
Dr. Jan McBarron recommends short naps to catch up if you are able. Short, 30-minute naps can go a long way towards keeping you refreshed. Catch a few winks in the morning and another few in the afternoon or before dinner. Avoid napping too close to bedtime though, she warns, or that too can throw off your natural sleep schedule.
There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful situation. Anxiety and stress are major factors when it comes to our ability to fall and stay asleep. Practicing meditation can help slow down your thoughts, says Dr. McBarron. Techniques like breathing, noting, and checking in with your body can help you relax before you end your day, making it that much easier to get to sleep. A calm mind is more likely to stay asleep too, and achieve that deep sleep needed to really refresh your body.