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):

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Self-care for massage therapists, part 1

I’ve been doing 16-20 hours of massage per week lately, mostly Swedish but also a little deep tissue work. (I’m still getting up to speed on ashiatsu.)

The up side? I burn a lot of calories so I can really dig in at the table (one of life’s sweet pleasures), and I sleep well, being physically fatigued, another sweet by-product. And of course I’m the richer for it, in money, skill, connections, and making a difference.

The down side is that such physical work can take a toll on my body. I understand why a lot of massage therapists get burned out and leave the profession. From my fingers to my spine, I have felt achiness, inflammation, swelling, tenderness, stiffness.

Luckily, I belong to a group on LinkedIn, the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP). I joined to keep up with discussions about the profession. One person not long ago asked the following question:

What do you do for your hands when they ache after giving a series of massages? I am using proper body mechanics. My hands ache. I appreciate your feedback.

There were 55 responses that I’m going to summarize, because I feel so grateful to have this resource. Thanks to all the MTs who responded.

Please note that many of these are new to me; I am just summarizing what people posted. Later I will post what’s worked for me (that I’ve tried so far) along with a few of my own discoveries.

Recovery time

  • scheduling days off to recover
  • taking a 30 minute break after 3 hours (or however long works for you)
  • taking adequate time between clients to recover
  • not scheduling deep tissue sessions back to back

Body mechanics, stretching, strengthening, and recovery

  • paying attention to how you use your hands on your days off
  • doing hand stretching and strengthening exercises
  • resting in semi-supine position to open the brachial plexus (on your back, knees up, feet flat, book under head for 15-20 minutes)
  • paying even more attention to body mechanics as you work
  • getting a colleague to observe you work and give feedback
  • stretching after each client
  • lifting weights to strengthen arms and hands
  • punching a punching bag (with training)

Therapeutic devices

Heat and cold

  • dipping hands into hot wax/paraffin bath
  • applying hot and cold hydrotherapy
  • dipping hands into ice water

Self-massage

  • getting regular massage yourself
  • stripping your own forearm muscles
  • getting Reflexology on your hands or doing it yourself
  • learning Trager self-care movements for the hands
  • getting myofascial release work done on your arms
  • this page describes how to release wrist trigger points
  • this page describes how to release tennis elbow
  • cupping with suction cups

Delivering massage

  • working within your limitations (i.e., telling clients you don’t do full body deep tissue work)
  • reading the book Save Your Hands!
  • switching to Trager
  • learning Reiki so the energy goes only one way
  • learning Bamboossage, Ashiatsu Oriental bar therapy, or floor Ashiatsu to deliver deep tissue work
  • use alternating areas of the hand/forearm/elbow in moderation
  • having a box of tools available (balls, bamboo sticks, knobbers) to use on clients’  tough spots
  • using Art Riggs’ techniques for deep tissue work
  • using your forearms instead of hands whenever possible
  • using cupping
  • applying hot towels to client
  • holding thumbs tight against hand and using body to push for static pressure point work
  • using the edge of your hand or base of palm area instead of thumbs for sweeping or kneading motions

Oils, herbs, creams, gels, minerals

  • applying essential oil of rosemary for warming or peppermint for cooling (add to jojoba oil)
  • applying oils that are anti-inflammatory: helichrysum, frankincense, German chamomile, Cape chamomile, katrafay, and ginger
  • applying oils that are analgesic: lemongrass, clove, litsea cubeba, peppermint, wintergreen, and eucalyptus citriodora
  • combining anti-inflammatory and analgesic oils; applying them to neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, and feet to relieve hands
  • applying St. John’s wort oil, white willow tincture, fresh turmeric tincture, comfrey fomentation, raw apple cider vinegar fomentation
  • using arnica cream
  • applying Biofreeze
  • applying magnesium oil or gel
  • soaking in an Epsom salt bath
  • soaking your hand in lukewarm or cold water with a minimum amount of salt

Diet, teas, supplements

  • staying hydrated
  • changing your diet to lower inflammation (no details given)
  • drinking coconut water
  • drinking a blueberry smoothie
  • eating cucumbers with sea salt
  • avoiding eating sugars, nightshades, baked products with flour and corn
  • avoiding caffeine
  • taking turmeric internally
  • drinking comfrey tea
  • taking supplements for joint health (no details provided)
  • taking MSM with glucosamine

A video that could help you sleep

Insomnia is a malady I have rarely had over the last few years. Only when I drink caffeine late in the day (I usually know better), and even more rarely, when I feel so disturbed about some issue in my life that my mind can’t let go of it do I lie awake at night unable to sleep and feel like a zombie the next day.

I have experienced months of insomnia every night in the past, however, and that experience has given me great compassion for those who suffer from it. A good night’s sleep is just essential for well-being.

I’ve posted about various remedies for insomnia occasionally. You can search my blog on “insomnia” to find those posts if you wish.

Cures or relief from insomnia is a topic of great interest. New information emerges. I’m interested in what works. Could it be that there is not a “one size fits all” cure for insomnia?

Today I stumbled across a video purportedly created by scientists to help you sleep. I listened to it (and did not fall asleep, but it’s morning and I am well rested already). I found it very peaceful. I can imagine that it would help me fall asleep.

Here’s the link if you want to give it a try:

http://www.wimp.com/scientistscreated/

The only other information I could find is that the video and music are by a band called Marconi Union. I don’t know if this is a band of scientists or what!

The best help I know of for insomnia (and the most expensive) is brainwave optimization.   I wasn’t experiencing any insomnia when I did the five days of brain training in June 2011. But it has been known to help with insomnia, and a study is underway to learn more about its effects on insomnia.

Even more awesome, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is undertaking this study of insomnia, and other studies are planned for migraines, mild cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury/concussion later this year!