How sleep affects the immune system

Quality and length of sleep affect the immune system. If you don’t get enough sleep or enough good quality sleep, you’re more likely to get sick from a virus, and it can slow your recovery.

While you sleep, your innate immune system releases cytokines (interferons, interleukins, growth factors). Some cytokines protect you from infectious illness, and lack of sleep reduces production. Antibody production, part of the adaptive immune system, also decreases due to sleep deprivation.

So get enough sleep (adults generally need 7-8 hours), and get good quality sleep to keep your immune system working well.

We can check in with ourselves when we wake each morning (always a good idea) to see if we feel rested or not. This is the biggest indicator of “enough good sleep,” but you may be wondering how to measure quality sleep.

Measuring Sleep

I wear a Fitbit watch that monitors my sleep through movement (rolling over) and heart rate variability. Every morning when I wake up, I first tune into how rested I feel. Then I look at my sleep stats. I aim to get at least 7 hours, and I usually do.

Time asleep matters. I know I do best if I get 7 to 7.5 hours. I’m not using an alarm, so I let myself sleep as long as I want. I often awaken early but keep still with my eyes shut to see if I can go back to sleep, and I usually do.

I imagine lots of people are doing that while sheltering in place.

Fitbit measures sleep quality by duration and percent time spent in each of the three levels of sleep: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. It also measures how often I awaken during the night. From all that, Fitbit creates a sleep score. I hope to get 90 or better, but usually my score is in the upper 80s. I’m working on it!

We sleep in cycles of about 90 minutes, cycling between light sleep and deep sleep during the first part of the night, and cycling between light sleep and REM sleep in the later part of the night. We also awaken briefly, or for longer, multiple times during the night, usually about 5 percent.

We spend about 50 percent of total sleep time in light sleep. Our temperature drops. Our heart rate and breathing slow. Our muscles relax and may jerk. We can be awakened more easily.

We spend about 20 percent in deep sleep. Getting enough deep sleep is connected to feeling rested in the morning. It’s restorative. Our brainwaves slow way down. Our brain actually cleans itself during this stage. Tissue growth and cell repair take place. Blood pressure drops, and blood flow to muscles increases. It’s more difficult to awaken from deep sleep.

REM sleep takes up about 25 percent of sleep time. We dream during REM sleep, even if we don’t remember dreaming. The brain wave pattern of REM sleep is closer to wakefulness. This stage is where memory consolidation, problem-solving, and learning occur. Respiration and heart rate increase. Brain activity is high. The body becomes immobile to keep us from acting out our dreams (usually).

Sleep patterns change with age. As we get older we usually get less deep sleep. Some older adults take longer to fall asleep, spend less time in REM sleep, and wake more often during the night. Sleep may begin earlier in the evening, with waking occurring earlier in the morning.

Anxiety Affects Sleep

It’s especially relevant that the anxiety so many are experiencing because of the COVID pandemic may be robbing us of good quality sleep when we really, really need it.

We may be anxious about getting sick or about our loved ones following health guidelines or getting sick. We may be anxious about hospitals being overwhelmed.

Personal finances may have drastically declined.

For some, food and shelter and peaceful co-existence with others in the home are major issues.

Uncertainty about how long this pandemic could last, how long it may take the economy to recover, politics nearly everywhere, mixed messages from medical experts and politicians can keep us awake at night.

How can you improve the quality of your sleep in the time of corona? There are a lot of ways, and I’d love to hear what works for you.

For me, when dealing with my own anxiety, I recognize that it’s in my mind and it’s about the future. These are thoughts that may or may not happen. I realize how fortunate I am to have a home, food, family nearby, friends, and enough income to know I won’t starve.

And then I bring my attention to my body. I notice my breathing. I notice sensations, of textures and temperature and weight, of muscle tension and relaxation, of discomfort. I try to feel my heart beating in my chest.

It’s very calming and helps me fall asleep quickly. Turning off my mind like this took some practice.

What Helps Me Get a Good Night’s Sleep

I am admittedly not a person who loves routine. I don’t have much of a bedtime routine. I don’t put my screens away an hour before bed, but I do stay away from disturbing news late in the day.

I get tired anywhere between 9:30 pm and 12:30 am, though those are extremes. I usually go to bed about 11.

  • I use a sleep mask because some light leaks in through my curtains.
  • I don’t drink caffeine after 1 pm.
  • I put together a playlist of binaural beats for delta brain waves (deep sleep), and I listen to that using headphones sometimes. (Honestly, I’m not sure it makes much difference.)
  • I get some exercise every day, whether it’s taking a yoga class online, participating in ecstatic dance online, or simply walking. According to the National Sleep Foundation, even light exercise like a 10-minute walk can improve sleep quality.
  • I get outside and get some sunlight every day, unless it’s raining. Morning sun on my skin feels great and gives me more Vitamin D, which helps immunity.
  • I sleep with my bedroom on the cool side.
  • I use a weighted blanket.
  • I often drink a cup of bone broth in the evening, and I take my magnesium in the evening.
  • I take two supplements, both from Premier Research Labs, with whom I have a practitioner account. Tranquinol is a capsule that improves deep sleep, and Melatonin-ND is a liquid that improves REM sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

Catching Up on Austin COVID Stats

Austin implemented sheltering in place on March 24, so today, April 7, is Day 14.

You may have read in the news about the 70 UT students who chartered a plan to Baja California for spring break and took commercial flights back. Forty-nine of them have tested positive as of 3 days ago.

Zip code 78705, the area west and north of UT that houses many students, has 55 verified cases, the most of any zip code in the county. The 20-29 age group still has the highest number of cases of any age group in the area. It’s a younger city demographically.

Here are our stats (source: http://www.austintexas.gov/covid19):

Sacroiliac joint healed!

Way back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot, and Pelvic rehab update: getting bodywork, exercises, kinesiotaping). I haven’t had much to add since then: getting the belt and wearing it nearly 24/7, using the insoles, continuing to gather information, get bodywork, etc., it just takes time.

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect, but it is strong and tight enough that the joint stays in place. Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out. Continue reading

Preventing illness, recovering quickly

One of the most widely read posts on my blog is about recovering from a virus and recovering from adrenal exhaustion. People find it by googling because they’re trying to get well.

I want to share some good advice on preventing colds and the flu, based on what is known now. The immune system is an area of interest to researchers, but without a lot of solid conclusions, so far. What I’m sharing here is the best we know now, simplified, and now of course is when it counts.

You can prevent a lot of illness by managing your life in a way so that you experience less stress. Take care with your work and relationships, whatever stresses you. Know what you can handle and don’t be afraid to set healthy-for-you boundaries. Remember, stress turns on the bad genes as well as lowering immunity. Continue reading

Moving toward a more traditional diet

I’ve been working with local clinical nutritionist/acupuncturist Olivia Honeycutt for a couple of months, tweaking my diet so I can be healthier and have more energy. She gave me some forms for noting what I eat for meals and snacks, when I eat, how much water I drink, how many hours of sleep I get and the quality of my sleep, bowel movements, etc. We get together every couple of weeks so I can share my forms. She looks them over and makes recommendations of little tweaks I can make to improve my health through diet.

Although I was already eating very little grains and legumes and no gluten before I started working with Olivia, I’m eating more of a traditional diet now.

It was a bit difficult to move past the belief that more fat is good, because for most of my adult life, fat has been considered the cause of heart disease and obesity. Especially animal fat. Fat = bad for decades, and now fat = good (especially animal fat, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil). I went out of my way especially to avoid Mexican restaurant food cooked with lard, and now it’s considered healthy! (It’s also tastier.)

Yet here I am, eating butter, ghee, and/or bacon grease daily. I did not want to gain weight, but I have. It’s actually fat turned to muscle, because my clothes still fit. To lose weight eating like this, you eat more fat earlier in the day.

Epic barsThe great thing about fat is that it satisfies. If I’m working for hours doing massage, and I don’t have time to eat, consuming fat will stave off my hunger for longer than anything else I could eat. It’s fuel. I’ve tried eating various fat-laden foods such as almond butter, coconut butter, Epic bison/lamb/turkey/beef bars, avocados, and some organic extra-virgin coconut oil when my hunger is getting the better of me. It works.

One of the biggest adjustments is that from tracking my water intake, I learned I wasn’t drinking enough water. Now I drink 16 ounces upon arising (with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar). My water bottle holds 27 ounces, and I empty it daily. Another 16 ounces in the evening brings my total to 59 ounces, close enough to my goal of 60 ounces a day, or about half my body weight in ounces. I don’t count the caffeinated tea I drink because tea is a diuretic.

Also, I like to drink a glass of water about 10 minutes before eating because it helps me avoid overeating. It’s so easy to confuse hunger and thirst! When my thirst is sated, I’m not as hungry.

Because I work out 3-5 times per week with kettle bells and do physical work as a massage therapist, Olivia has me eating a palm-sized amount of protein at each meal. I am not an athlete, but I get to eat like one! I’ve been making chicken liver paté from different recipes for the past few weeks to get some beneficial fat-soluble vitamins found in liver. (Here’s my favorite recipe!)

I don’t eat much canned or processed foods, except for sardines. I eat raw honey, rare beef, and fermented food and drink such as sauerkraut, refrigerator pickles, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, Kevita, wine, cider, or cheese nearly every day.

I’m looking forward to obtaining some natto, having become aware of the vast benefits of consuming adequate vitamin K2 for appropriate calcium utilization (i.e., in the bones and teeth and not in the arteries and brain). There’s a supplement that also has K2

I’m learning to soak and dehydrate nuts. (Well, just walnuts, so far.) The cookbook Nourishing Traditions has been helpful. This diet is similar to the Paleo diet, is influenced by the Weston A. Price Foundation‘s dietary principles, and also by Olivia’s understanding of diet and health from her acupuncture training (having to do with heat, cold, dampness, herbs, seasons, constitutions, etc.).

I try to eat half a beet and drink a cup of dandelion tea (leaf or root) each day for better liver function. I eat dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tropical fruits. And high-cacao chocolate (over 70 percent).

I also make bone broths, especially in the winter, for the calcium. I save chicken, beef, and lamb bones and veggie scraps in my freezer. Sometimes I just buy bones. I have a big plastic container to store them in, and I also add the water from steaming veggies to this frozen stockpile of nutrients.

When I’ve got enough, I put the contents into a stockpot, add water to cover and a splash of apple cider vinegar and a moderate amount of salt, and cook it at a simmer for a day or two, skimming foam off the top when it first rises.

The resulting broth is flavorful and extremely nourishing. I drink a cup a day when I have it and also use it as a basis for soups and stews. See my post on making turkey vegetable soup with bone broth!

In summer (because it’s too hot to make broth), and when I’ve run out of broth, I consume a tablespoon of gelatin every day for the protein. It thickens smoothies, makes my hair and nails grow thicker and faster, and is good for joints and reducing cellulite. I get the Great Lakes brand sold on Amazon.

My gut seems to be working better despite recent stressful difficulties. I take L-glutamine supplements, which help with gut issues and have many other benefits.

Check out my Products I Recommend page for more recommendations for books, supplements, and products to improve your well-being.

Turkey vegetable soup made with bone broth

Since I accidentally ate some cookies with gluten the week before Thanksgiving (always read the label or ask the cook), which disturbed my gut, I’ve been making a batch of turkey vegetable soup with bone broth every few days. It is a wonderfully healing food that is easy to digest and provides lot of nourishment. It’s also a lovely way to spend a cold winter day, at home with a broth simmering, smelling great, heating my home, and later, tasting great and nourishing me deeply.

It takes a long time to make, but it’s worth it. Continue reading