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Sleep and Your Immune System: Tips on Proper Sleep Hygiene

Each night our body is programmed to do housekeeping and repair. Routine, quality sleep allows the body to maintain optimal biologic rhythms and healthy cellular function. Studies show that people who have disrupted sleep have significantly higher rates of cancer. Vice versa, studies have shown that night-shift workers have an increased risk of cancer. Much of the research is linked to production of the pineal hormone, melatonin, which is produced while we sleep. This hormone is critical to immune function and cellular repair. Melatonin is also an anti-oxidant. Through multiple mechanisms, melatonin and good sleep keep our cells, at the DNA level, from becoming cancerous. Additionally, natural melatonin production declines as we age and generally, our sleep becomes worse.

Here are a few tips to help get you to sleep:

Avoid being over-stimulated at bedtime:

  • Avoid caffeine if you have difficulty falling asleep, especially after noon.

  • Avoid all alcohol if you have any sleep issues, especially from late afternoon on. Alcohol is sedating but has a paradoxical effect of causing awakenings during the night.

  • Turn off electronic devices that emit blue light, such as the TV, computers, smart phones, and tablets at least 2 hours prior to going to sleep as they inhibit melatonin production. If you must use these devices, consider using a blue light filtering app or amber colored glasses to block the blue light.

  • Allow your mind to relax and unwind at least an hour before bedtime. If this is challenging to you, try journaling, relaxation breathing, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, listening to soft music, taking a relaxation bath, with lavender essential oils and Epsom salts is desired. Try going to sleep to the sounds of the ocean or similar pleasant sounds.

  • Aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise daily to help support sleep, but don’t do it too close to bedtime if you know you’re prone to being over-stimulated by it.

Train the brain to feel sleepy & awake at regular times:

  • Try to view the sunset and dim the house lights after dark, always being mindful of safety. Keep your bedroom very dark and cool. Remove electronics from the bedside and use natural products for your bedding and pillows.

  • Keep a sleep routine-go to sleep and arise at the same times each day, including weekends. Retire between 10 and 11 PM for the healthiest melatonin production and restorative sleep.

  • If you have to get up during night to use the bathroom use a nightlight or as little light as possible.

  • Avoid napping as it interferes with the natural Circadian Rhythm. If extremely tired, limit nap time to 30 minutes or less.

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight per day with no sunglasses. Get some bright light exposure soon after awakening and get some natural light exposure during the mid-portion of the day.

Develop a strong mental association between your bedroom & sleep:

  • The bedroom should be an oasis of tranquility. Do not use it as an office or recreation room-avoid reading, working, or watching TV in your bed!

  • Get into bed only when you are sleepy. If you are unable to fall asleep, get up and go into another dimly lit room and read a paper book or magazine or listen to soft music. Do not use a computer, watch TV, or use your smart phone.

An evening ritual helps prepare your body/mind for sleep:

  • Do the same thing every night, as you are training your body/mind to unwind from the day. Having a ritual that involves several steps triggers the brain that it’s time for bed. For example, taking a bath, brushing your teeth, and then doing some deep breathing while lying in bed.

  • Count your blessings or feeling gratitude is a great way to end the day.

  • Relax with a cup of tea an hour before bed. Some herbal sedating and relaxing teas include Passion flower, lemon balm, valerian, hops, and chamomile.

  • Progressive relaxation, gentle stretching, or yoga may also help you unwind and release from the day.

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