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):

Mid-day thoughts, 7.22.2019: meditation and samsara

It’s been a while since I posted. It feels good to be back here, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and fascinations. I was busy, then spending a lot of time helping a friend in need, did some training and traveling, then a lot more time helping that friend, only to have that relationship unravel last week. It may have unraveled entirely and forever. I don’t know, and I don’t really care right now.

What I do know is that I am exhausted, reclaiming my space, my time, and my energy, while preparing to do some more travel. I’m taking time this week to recalibrate and nurture myself.

Processing is one of my favorite things to do. It’s such a great teacher, a guru, to feel so many emotions arise over time. To allow every one of them to express itself and move through me — it’s great company and also entertaining, this guesthouse. Feeling sadness, anger, judgment, curiosity, incredulity, a few regrets, the amazing aha of a huge insight that was right under my nose, disdain about their assumed entitlement and their obvious discomfort with their choices past and present, the deep compassion I have for them and their road ahead (yes, it’s gonna take 10 years), fears for self and others, stress, unwinding, missing the fun and affection before the criticism set in, recognizing my mistrust all along and the reasons for it, feeling a bit defensive that what they choose to believe are my issues are actually not — although they are based on inconsistent behaviors on their part, recognizing the need for a major shift in the relationship or perhaps shutting that door entirely, caring and yet oddly enough very coldly not caring what happens to them, recognizing they’ll survive, or not, and this break may be just what they need to ground themselves and do the difficult thing, that’s only hard to get started with.

Separation has many gifts.

Shocks instigate growth. Instead of whining about them, we can be grateful for the opportunities to further develop our resources.

I look back to see where I could have made better decisions, to take some responsibility and learn for the future, because there is never just one person at fault — we’re all in this together, always, even through misunderstandings, and even when we need to pull back. A few of my actions (especially the lack of me setting some clearly needed boundaries, in hindsight, regardless of being labeled “controlling”) are glaring at me.

“Knot by knot I untie myself from the 

past / And let it rise away from me like a balloon. / What a small thing it 

becomes. / What a bright tweak at the vanishing point, blue on blue.”

Charles Wright

I look at what’s ahead for me, and I feel pretty good about the choices I have and how to use them well. I can leave this relationship entirely behind (using the famous INFJ door slam — look it up if curious — I’ve done it before, though it’s rare). Closure might be healing, which was the intent in the first place. If we talk, it will be with a therapist present, and I have no idea if that’s going to happen. Either way. Take it or leave it. I have a good life that I”m happy with.

I’m grateful for my friends, one of whom has called me out and also been kind, and another who has been purely embracing and loving.

Mostly, today I want to share how much meditation is helpful. I got away from my daily practice. I missed my daily sit on June 20, and since then have had two gaps of as long as 5 days. I’m getting back on track — I can see how my brain, memories, and equanimity operate so much better when I do a daily sit.

I use Insight Timer to keep a log, even when I use another app (I used Waking Up with Sam Harris for a while). Before June 20, I had meditated for 990 consecutive days. Also in June, I reached the milestone of 1,000 days with a session.

Anyway, here I am living in the midst of samsara with all of its chaos, grins, and grief, and meditation allows me to take a small, temporary break from it.

I sit, I get still, I breathe, I tune into my experience in the present, and my thoughts begin to slow so there are gaps, sometimes long gaps.

In these gaps, I feel my sensations. I feel myself soften. I feel my energy body extend beyond my skin. I feel tensions releasing and leaving my body. I feel my chakras open and spin. I feel radiance in my face.

I feel kindness toward myself. I feel love. I experience an empty awareness that’s full of connection with Source, or whatever you call it in your tradition. I am plugging into Something.Important.

I become fucking Re-Source-full. Empowered. Full of grace and confidence, not the blustery let-me-try-to-impress-you kind, but the “I am present for whatever arises in each moment” kind of confidence.

I am so, so grateful to have this practice, to have experience with it, and I’m especially grateful for having done two 10-day Vipassana courses, which, in video-game terms, each took me to a higher level. Just as they say Rolfing is the equivalent of 5 years of yoga, a Vipassana course is the equivalent of 5 years of meditation. Generalities, of course, but pointing to something important. I hope to do another one within the next year.

The starting place for each meditation is so much more aware than when I began to practice, also after a relationship breakup, back in 2006. I get to return to Source, and that’s what is truly healing.

Loving you for reading this. Thank you, my friends.

Happy New Year! Gratitude for 2013! Have a delightful 2014!

May 2014 bring you an abundance of blessings.

Some people and events in 2013 that I’m grateful for:

  • meeting David Harel and then training in craniosacral therapy (classical and biodynamic) with Ryan Hallford — this new work direction is juicy and compelling
  • all of the people who have allowed me to practice on them — I appreciate your willingness to let a student learn on you Continue reading

The last hour of life

The book group that I’ve attended weekly for the past several years had a writing assignment for this week, to write about our last hour of life. We’ll gather tomorrow and share. Here’s mine:

I don’t really know when this is going to happen. I’d like to believe that it will happen in the distant future, at least 20 years in the future, maybe 30 or even more, but I don’t know. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen tonight! Continue reading

New Year blessings for you from The Well

May you breathe fully and easily.

May you fully inhabit your body with your awareness.

May you discern the difference between stress and relaxation.

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May you experience more and deeper relaxation.

May you experience just enough stress to keep you aware and safe.

May you delight in exploring how good you can feel.

 

May the relation between your diet and well-being become clear.

May the relation between your conscious and unconscious minds become clear.

May you soften to yourself and others.

 

May you seek help when needed.

May you feel gratitude for all the resources you have.

May you move toward happiness.

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May you notice shine, wherever it appears.

May inspiration find you frequently.

May you have compassion for yourself and others.

 

May you set boundaries and manage conflicts with love.

May you experience breakthroughs in maturity and insight.

May you be present in every possible moment.

Letting the light in

Christmas morning, 2012. I’m house- and pet-sitting Mango. It’s going to be a quiet day of solitude — I accidentally left my phone at my trailer last night. So be it. Today it can wait.

My family is gathering on the 27th, when more of us are able to gather. Hospitals are open every day of the year and someone has to care for those sick people, and children of divorced parents usually split their holidays, and sometimes people move over the holidays. I am grateful to have a family to connect with at all.

Last night I attended a warm, lovely Christmas Eve potluck and jam session in a friend’s magical backyard. Sitting outside watching the waxing, near-full moon behind a big, ever-changing, cloud-studded sky, a few stars playing peekaboo, was quite enjoyable.

So much of this season is about darkness and light. It must have been a mystery to our ancestors, especially in the far northern latitudes of Europe where mine lived for so long, to observe the days growing shorter and shorter, the life-giving light and heat of the sun retreating while the cold and dark established themselves firmly. Would the sun return? Was this the end? The warmth of family and community gathering in spite of the backdrop of long, cold nights must have been especially meaningful in the face of this big cold mystery. It was to me, last night.

This must have been mysterious enough that ancient investigators began to measure changes in day length and discovered a pattern that included the winter solstice, the turning point in which the days begin to grow long again, that happened year after year. The predictability must have lent considerable order to chaos and thus been worthy of great celebrations, once they figured it out.

No wonder this time of year is celebrated by so many cultures, that the birth of God’s son was moved to this powerful time of year.

I had an urge this Christmas morning to open all the blinds at the house where I’m staying, to let as much light in as possible.

Today the skies are partly cloudy, here in Austin, TX, where winter exists but only in spurts. Today the sunshine comes and goes. The bare branches of the deciduous trees appear silhouetted against that sky.

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I’ve always appreciated winter for the way it strips away the leaves, exposing the bone structure of trees. Perhaps that’s a reason I’m drawn to giving massage — to feel through the soft tissues to the solid bone within — or to investigating and appreciating the power of the season.

The wind is blowing. The branches are waving, the remaining leaves fluttering and quivering. Hello.

I’m having a breakfast of cooked quinoa with currants, a little ghee, and honey, along with a new favorite, a delicious three-ginger tea (ginger, galangal, and turmeric from Pukka, a British purveyor of organic and Ayurvedic herbal products), a clementine and grapefruit juice. I forgot to buy special food for Christmas morning, and I’m not missing it. Oh, I’ll indulge in tamales and eggnog and sweets for a few more days and then gladly clean up my diet again. January is good for that.

Mango has been offered a bit of sockeye salmon roasted in butter, which he turned down in favor of cat treats. Go figure. Maybe we’ll sit in the sun or snuggle in a Christmas nap together later. And later I will go out, to offer chair massage to the staff at the hospital where my daughter is working, then off to another potluck and jam session with friends.

I enjoy the connections and celebrations of the season, but the most special part of this holiday to me is waking up knowing it’s Christmas, knowing it’s a holy day, a special day unlike any other, and feeling the joy of that.

Even without a gift given or received, without the feasting, without the camaraderie of my beloved family and friends, without church, music, lights, and all the traditions of the season, it’s truly just a day to be awake and to marvel in this big mystery, to be filled with gratitude and wonder for this amazing life.

As is every day!

Wise words about loss and presence, joy and gratitude

My young, wise Facebook friend Arpita Rose shared this quote. I thought it was so amazing, I wanted to share. I added to my Favorite quotes page too.

You will lose everything. Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memories. Your looks will go. Loved ones will die. Your body will fall apart. Everything that seems permanent is impermanent and will be smashed. Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes and no longer turning away.

But right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realising this is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. This may sound trivial, obvious, like nothing, but really it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude.

Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar. ~ Jeff Foster

Election, holidays: with respect for grace and sanity

The election is over. This time it was different. I felt more detached, less prone to let others’ emotions affect me.

I don’t own a TV. I do listen to public radio in my car sometimes, and I sometimes check out the headlines online, so I’m not completely unfamiliar with current events. I check Facebook and Twitter almost daily, and I caught a lot of people’s posts/tweets about the candidates, issues, things the candidates ignored that should have been issues, spin, and so on.

I didn’t get wound up about it. I knew who I would vote for, and I followed through. The candidate I voted for won, which isn’t always the case. Now we’ll see how the nation and the world fare for the next four years.

It was surprisingly serene.

Thanksgiving was also very low-key this year. I cooked, and a couple of friends came over for potluck, talk, and play. Then we went to see The Life of Pi in 3D. I’d read the book and thought the film was well-done.

I went to another movie the next day with my family. Did not go shopping. Worked Saturday morning. Danced with my ecstatic community in our new space on Sunday morning. Worked Sunday evening.

We’re supposed to feel grateful at Thanksgiving. I have gotten leery of “supposed to” thinking. I could have posted a feel-good post about Thanksgiving, yet something inside made me hesitate.

Even better than feeling grateful because it’s Thanksgiving: Listening to how you really feel.

What if your highest purpose in life is to be yourself and to love yourself no matter what?

Anyway, my best wish for us all is to get through this holiday season with grace and sanity.

New blog milestones and best massage ever given

Sometime this weekend when I wasn’t looking, my blog passed 60,000 views! This is a labor of love, and I can’t measure my “success” in monetary terms. Blog views, likes, and comments are my currency.

Thank you for reading me.

And…yesterday I had my best single day ever with 426 views! That’s pretty astonishing, considering the average number of views per day in 2012 (so far) has been 182.

I took the whole weekend off, spending a good chunk of it out in the country at a friend’s remote ranch. Clean air, water, cattle, a river, lots of trees, big sky, silence (compared to the city), a sweet porch on which I did a couple of great yoga sequences, soaking in a metal tub filled with well water, and lots of laughter were just the ticket for rest and relaxation.

I didn’t do a stroke of bodywork all weekend (except a little self-massage on my shoulders and arms). This morning I gave what felt to me like the best massage I’ve ever given, a 90-minute full body massage combining Swedish, deep, pressure points, rocking, reflexology, and lots of attention to her neck, shoulders, and hips. My client really appreciated it. Her week started extremely well.

If you’re looking for a great massage, consider booking one in the morning when your massage therapist is feeling refreshed, especially after a couple of days off! If you’re in the Austin area, I’d love your business!

See you later, with the first turnaround of Byron Katie’s Work!

More from the world’s oldest living yoga teacher: she tangos!

I found this 2006 YouTube video of Tao Porchon-Lynch, whom I posted about recently in The world’s oldest living yoga teacher.

This video was made in 2006, when Tao was “only” 86.

Isn’t she adorable? I aspire to be like her when I’m 86.

Oh, and she also likes to waltz, jitterbug, samba, cha-cha, foxtrot, and tango.

“It lightens up your spirit,” she says.