Have you ever stopped to wonder why we typically sleep for about one third of our lives? The short answer is because it’s simply that important for our overall health and more specifically, our immune health. Sleep is necessary for recovering from the energy expenditure you have endured throughout your day; it allows both your mind and body the time to rest and recover.
Let’s face it when you’re run down, you are more likely to feel generally unwell and not like yourself. According to sleep experts, the recommended amount of sleep is between 7-9 hours per night on average for an adult between 18-64 years, however, I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of us are in fact not getting that amount.
Due to a number of factors, it’s estimated that 30 percent of adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep and acquire something known as sleep debt. Unlike our financial debt, we are not sent reminders of that debt, except for when our health is affected and long-term sleep debt can have long-term effects on our health. In this blog post, not only will you learn why the proper amount of sleep plays such a vital role in our immune health, but we’ll also share some tips and tricks on how to get you sleeping peacefully throughout the night!
Between the stressors of work, finances and family life many individuals are sleep deprived, not to mention the fact that our diets are not always conducive to helping our sleep habits, it’s no wonder why some of us are not in the best health and why our immune systems sometimes take a hit.
Sleep is imperative for a healthy immune system for a number of reasons. While you sleep, your immune system is at work and produces something known as anti-inflammatory cytokines. These are little immune cell messengers that move around to sights of inflammation and infection in the body. Knowing that chronic inflammation in the body can lead to a number of chronic illnesses, it’s no wonder why getting enough sleep is important to combat the chronic inflammation our bodies are often subjected to due to a number of lifestyle and environmental factors.
On the other hand, when you lack regular sleep, your body is more likely to produce cytokines that are pro-inflammatory, contributing to chronic inflammation in our bodies that sleep is supposed to help neutralize.
With that said, it’s safe to say that sleep is a crucial part of the immune system at work, trying to fight off whatever infection and inflammation it can, since often chronic inflammation is something we all deal with in some shape or form. In addition to supporting immune function through the production of cytokines, there are also studies that support the notion that sleep enhances the immune system memory, meaning longer, deeper sleep allows for the immune system to react to infections it has previously encountered.
If you’re constantly lacking sleep, this puts you at risk of re-developing that particular infection because your immune memory is stifled.
As previously mentioned above, sleep is also important for your recovery from the energy you used throughout the day. When you’re awake, most of your energy is being used by the brain and muscles to support your ability to function throughout the day (walking, talking, etc).
When you sleep and energy is no longer needed for daily tasks and activities, energy can then refocus its efforts on the immune system, by breaking down immune cells it no longer needs and creating new ones in their place.
Clearly the importance of sleep and immune function are closely related and we all need to do a better job of getting in the appropriate amount of shut-eye during the night.
So some of you may be asking, ‘what can I do to make sure I am getting enough sleep on a day to day basis’? Well lucky for you, there are some easy lifestyle changes and habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to help ensure you get the appropriate amount of sleep during the evening.
Be More Mindful of What You Eat and Drink
As a Nutritionist, I always want you to consider first and foremost what you’re putting in your body.
You may not be aware, but what you eat through the day can impact your ability to sleep at night. Reducing food and beverages considered to be stimulants such as coffee, caffeinated teas and refined and sugary foods throughout the day and even more so during the evening can help you to have a deeper, more restorative sleep throughout the night.
Stimulants ‘stimulate’ our nervous system and put our bodies in the ‘fight or flight’ mode. When we believe our body is under attack, you better believe your body is going to do everything in its power to stop you from sleeping.
If you’re someone who needs a little bedtime snack, focuses on foods that contain naturally occurring sleep aids like almonds and walnuts, which both contain melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep cycle. Certain fruits like tart cherries and oranges also contain melatonin.
Additionally, certain herbal teas like lavender and chamomile have antioxidants that can help have a calming effect on your body, allowing you to relax more and make for a night of easier and more peaceful sleep.
See below for some delicious recipes for both a bedtime snack and beverages that contain these wonderful sleep-inducing foods and herbs!
Exercise During the Day
While you may think of exercise as tiring work (and it is!), and working out before bed should exhaust you, making for an easier sleep, it is actually best to exercise earlier in the day.
This is due to the level of cortisol that is released during exercise. Like stimulants, cortisol also stimulates the nervous system, making it more difficult for your body to relax and calm down for bed.
However, it is known that exercising on a regular and consistent basis will help promote deeper, more meaningful sleep (especially when it’s done earlier in the day!).
Try to find an exercise routine that you can stick to and in time you will see the sleep benefits!
Enjoy More Outdoor Time
One of the best things you can do to help promote a regular sleep cycle is spending more time outdoors.
Your body is naturally meant to sleep and wake with the cycle of the sun – exposing yourself to the sun more often can improve your quality of sleep and helps your body synchronize with your circadian rhythm.
Have you ever noticed when you’re camping or up north at a cottage, you tend to have a more restful sleep? Spending time in the fresh air also helps you fall asleep more quickly and in a deeper state.
In general, we don’t get outside in nature enough, so if it may help you sleep better and more soundly throughout the night (plus all the other amazing benefits of the outdoors). It’s a no brainer to find the time to spend some time in the outdoors!
Deep Breathing and Meditation
I know I keep mentioning the nervous system and the ‘fight or flight’ response, but it’s because it plays that big of a role in helping you sleep properly. I find some simple deep breathing and meditation exercises can seriously help me relax and calm my body after a long day.
Learning how to practice deep breathing and meditation will not only help improve your sleep habits, these two things can also have other benefits for your mind and body as well.
There are many apps and videos online to help you start this practice – trust me, you and your sleep routine will thank me if you start implementing this one small change.
Turn Off Electronic Devices Before Bedtime
Some of you may moan and groan and say that ‘it helps relax you and helps you fall asleep’, but I’m sorry to say, it negatively impacts you in the long run.
Electronic devices emit light and while you may find sitting down before bed and watching your favourite show may help relax you, it doesn’t do anything for your sleep cycle, as your body will mistake the light for the sun.
As we mentioned above, your sleep cycle mimics the sun and if it has constant light or ‘sun’ in the evening it cannot differentiate between the two causing you to have a more difficult time falling asleep and it may impact your quality of sleep, which is just as important as the amount of time you sleep.
Be Consistent with Your Bedtime and Bedtime Routine
As I mentioned before, your body works best when you support your naturally occuring circadian rhythm – aka your sleep cycle.
One way to support this is to encourage consistency in regards to your bedtime and bedtime routine. Most of us usually wake up at the same time everyday, so work backwards and find the perfect time to get in those 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
Additionally, creating a regular bedtime routine, for example, deep breathing and meditation, having a bath, reading and reducing screen time before bed, will all help you create consistency with your bedtime as well since that all needs to be done before you catch your zzz’s!
Not to mention all these habits will help you relax more, helping you fall asleep more easily and readily.
Trail Mix Bites
- ¾ cup almonds roasted and chopped
- ¼ cup pistachios roasted and chopped
- ⅓ cup walnuts roasted and chopped
- ⅔ cup Mike & Mike's Pumpkin Seeds roasted
- ⅔ cup Mike & Mike's Sunflower Seeds roasted
- 3 tbsp Inari Sunflower Seeds roasted
- ⅓ cup Organic Traditions Shredded Coconut roasted
- 3 tbsp Nature’s Emporium Chia Seeds
- ⅓ cup Eden Tart Cherries chopped
- ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Organic Rolled Oats
- 1 tbsp organic orange zest
- ¼ cup Nature's Emporium Raw Honey
- ½ cup Nuts to You Almond Butter
- In a cast iron skillet, quickly roast almonds, pistachios and walnuts until a nutty aroma. Be careful not to burn.
- Remove from heat and cool.
- In the same skillet, add pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and coconut and quickly roast until you get a sweet roasted coconut smell. Careful not to burn.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Chop cooled and roasted nuts and add to the seed mix.
- Transfer nut and seed mix into a bowl and add remaining ingredients: chia seeds, tart cherries, rolled oats, orange zest and mix well.
- Once combined, add peanut butter and honey and ensure it is evenly coated over the entire mixture.
- Begin to roll into small bite size balls, if they are not sticking together, add additional honey until they begin to stick; one tablespoon at a time.
- Cool in the refrigerator for approximately an hour or more and enjoy!
- 3 cups water
- 2 tbsp Clefs de Champs Organic Loose Leaf Chamomile Flowers
- 4 tbsp freshly squeezed organic orange juice
- 1 ½ tsp Nature’s Emporium Cold Pressed Ginger Shot
- 1 tsp Nature’s Emporium Cold Pressed Turmeric Shot
- 1 tbsp Nature’s Emporium Raw Honey or more, to taste
- Simply Organic Black Pepper to taste
- Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Once boiled, remove from heat and add loose leaf flowers and steep for 10-15 min, or until the colour of the water turns a golden yellow.
- Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher for mixing.
- Add freshly squeezed orange juice, ginger juice, turmeric juice, honey and black pepper and stir until fully combined.
- Pour into 2 mugs, garnish with orange and ginger slices and enjoy!
Lavender Tea Base
- 2 cups water
- 3 tbsp Clef de Champs Dried Lavender Loose Leaf Tea
- 3 ¾ cup Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade
- 1 tsp Organika Blue Matcha
- 5 oz freshly-squeezed organic lemon juice
- Lavender Tea Base
- organic lemon slices for garnish
- Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Once boiled, remove from heat and add loose leaf tea and steep for 60-75 min.
- Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher for mixing.
- In a blender, add lemonade, lemon juice, add blue matcha powder and blend for a few seconds and watch it turn purple.
- In a pitcher, add lavender tea, remove the foam from the blended lemonade/blue matcha mixture, then pour over the tea. Stir well.
- Pour into 4 glasses and garnish each glass with a slice of lemon and a sprig of rosemary.
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