That tiny sniffle you thought you could shake just turned into a temperature escalating and body aching kick in the gut. You tried some warm lemon & ginger tea, antibiotics and a night of rest, but it won’t get the hint to leave. We have all been there, and no matter how or when it happens, it always sucks (that is, of course, unless you happen to ironically “miss out” on seeing the in-laws for the weekend).
There are more than enough lifestyle adjustments that can do the job even better, without taking a toll on dampening your immune system or spending hours in the doctor’s office. And one of the biggies to look at first is how you sleep.
Lack of sleep can heavily affect your immune system. If you, like many others, fall into the category of “not getting full rest”, you are prone to a higher risk of contracting a virus, even as simple as the common cold. On top of that, having lowered levels of quality rest will negatively impact your recovery time from sickness (and even exercise). While you are sleeping, your immune system releases what are called cytokines. They are a special kind of protein that increase in production when you have an infection, or the body is under high levels of stress. Being constantly deprived of sleep has been shown to decrease the production of cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies.
Think of them it as your internal little warriors that fight back against foreign thugs looking to spread their plague. But without the proper rest, your warriors begin to disappear, leaving you exposed to get beat up and poisoned.
But regardless of simply how long you snooze, there is more than just duration when it comes to really getting the most out of your sweet, sweet slumber…
One big factor is to KNOW YOUR SLEEP CYCLES!
For the past 8 months, I’ve been mildly obsessed with quantifying my sleep – mostly because I’ve been a terrible sleeper nearly my entire life. The amount of times slept until noon in my high school and college years can be counted on one hand, and even as a baby I wouldn’t go down for naps (sorry about that Mom and Dad). So now, rather than just slapping my head into the pillow and setting an alarm as late as possible, a great tool I’ve had success with is a sleep cycle calculator, and personally my sleep quality is the best it has been so far in my life.
It is able to calculate the right amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is critical to enter ‘deep sleep’ and achieve a true resting state in the body. A web page called Sleepy-Time gives you the ability to Find the optimal wake up time options are based on when you are going to sleep or the best times to fall asleep if you have a specific time you need to wake up.
Here is what happens during one sleep cycle, or REM cycle
If you want to really combat potential sickness, then you better start closing your eyes, after you read this of course. I’m sure you’ve heard “You have to get your 6-8 hours”, but for many, it can feel far away… but it TRULY is the needed amount, not just a recommendation for some. Here are the steps that happen during one sleep cycle, or REM cycle of your sleep:
And here is the wave, or the occurrence of your sleep cycles through the course of the night… Look at when they peak at REM and recover back down to step 1. This is important to see and realize to ensure not waking up groggy, or in the middle of one of your sleep cycles.
If you are waking up while near the peak of an REM cycle, it is bad news bears for your ability to feel refreshed upon waking up. This is how getting even 8-10 hours of sleep could still cause you to feel fuzzy in the morning, but a well timed 4.5 hour snooze could bring you back to 100%… It’s all about the TIMING and SETTING.
Is your bedroom health up to par? Well, if not, you need to
Set the Mood… For Seductive Sleepy Time
There is always seems to be one shining bit of light that peeks through the window shades, blasting you in the face with an unexpected natural alarm of intense sun. And don’t forget about those tiny lights from TV’s, power strips, cell phone alerts, or even an alarm clock – do people still use those?
Believe it or not, even if you remain asleep, light that is exposed to your skin can disrupt your body’s ability to differentiate awake and sleep, known as our circadian rhythm. To get the most out of your sleep, you want your room to be as dark as a cave. The subconscious body can be easily confused, which is why night shift workers have such a hard time adjusting to a traditional work schedule, or how it feels impossible to wake up before the sun rises. As stated earlier, I have never been a good sleeper. But in order to ask my body and mind to perform and grow on a daily basis, finding ways to sleep better is number before any sort of training, work, writing, or anything that really requires focus. Here are some low-cost, simple ways to upgrade your bedroom for optimal sleep:
Use a Sleep Mask / Eye Covering
Upgrade to Black Out Curtains on the windows
Unplug unnecessary electronics that produce any light Replace your bright bulbs with soft white, low blue light, or dimmable bulbs
WHAT ARE YOU DOING RIGHT BEFORE BED?
If you have children, most likely it requires you to wrestle them to read, brush their teeth, and have everything set for school the next day before you plop into bed just in time for your favorite show and whip out your phone. Well, I hate to break it to you, but that hour of “relaxation” could be killing the quality of the real relaxation throughout the night. Rather than dive into the hundreds of possibilities to change your pre-bed ritual, I am also so aware than doing things you enjoy is necessary to achieve happiness, like your favorite show or spending time with a spouse.
EACH DAY, MAKE A BULLETED LIST OF WHAT YOU DO WITHIN THAT 60-90 HOURS BEFORE CLOSING YOUR EYES.
With great certainty, I can assume some items on there are totally unnecessary…like the 25 minutes of Facebook browsing with your head against the pillow. If you contact me individually, I can offer some suggestions on how to make the best situation especially for you, but for now, here are some additions/alterations that can help without restricting you of quality “me” time:
Purchase & Wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses when looking at the TV, phone, computer, or with overhead lights on (but definitely decrease time with electronics)
Begin guided or free writing in a journal to release stress, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, or gratitude Do some sort of stretching, breathing, or yoga to promote relaxation and stress relief Use essential oils like Orange, Lavender, Lemongrass, and Frankincense (on the skin or via diffuser) Read fiction for 10-15 minutes to ease the mind to endure better REM sleep and dreams Listen to White noise, Ambient Sound, Soundscapes, Binaural Beats: something soothing for the mind for Z’s
YOUR SLEEPING POSITION has a large influence on how well or not so well you sleep during the night.
Yes, believe it or not, this in itself can make a boat load of a difference when it comes to solving your aching back, cranky shoulder, sore neck, restlessness, misaligning posture…the list can keep going, but I think the message has been received! Some of us toss, turn, lie on our belly, face the wall, cuddle, or with 14 pillows under your neck, but none of those are optimal for sleep quality. If you sleep 8 hours per day in a position that does not support your back, you have spent ⅓ of your life with a misaligned spine. Here is a rundown of best to the worst positions to take for your slumber;
The best option is to sleep ON YOUR BACK. According to the National Sleep Institute, only 8% of people sleep on their backs, but is the most beneficial for body alignment. It allows the head, neck and spine to be neutral, reducing unnecessary pressure or strain. Also, the most beneficial to reduce acid reflux and promote digestion. Some downsides? It can intensify sleep apnea and potential snoring.
The next best is to sleep ON YOUR SIDE. As long as you remain relatively straight, this is fine for cervical and spinal alignment. Also, since the tongue is not pressed into the rear of your throat, snoring and sleep apnea prevalence can decrease. But by repeatedly lying on your side, it can influence tissue length from constant compression and awkward pressure, especially in the shoulders and hips; If this sounds like you, try alternating the side of the body you sleep on if nothing else at first. Plus, since only one side of your face hits the pillow, it can lead to wrinkles (*gasp*)
Following that, coming in third would be assuming THE FETAL POSITION. The most popular of positions, is the ideal position for pregnancy (especially on the left side). But being too ‘balled up’ can restrict the exercising the diaphragm, or not allowing the lungs to expand. It takes the body out of alignment and is not the ideal position to retain length and relaxation of our muscles/joints, contributing to muscle tightness or soreness.
The last, and in this case certainly the worst option is to sleep ON YOUR STOMACH. The issue is, this is comfortable for most people, but is very dangerous for lower back pain and poor posture. This was my favorite for years, but once I learned some scary effects, I had to switch, and you should too! Your spine, neck and head are misaligned, being forced into having a rotated spine for hours and hours (a.k.a. really bad for you, good for chiropractic visits). The lower back being overextended without support, and natural body weight compressing on your ribs and underlying organs is not ideal for basically every function we expect to run naturally. It is okay to rest in this position to take stress of off your back, but not for hours.
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