In the past few decades, developments in sleep science have highlighted the far-reaching importance of sleep for every system of the body.
Sleep and our immune system are indeed connected. When our immune system functions well our wounds heal fast, we are protected from infections and even chronic illnesses.
The immune system is strengthened with sufficient sleep and ensures a well-balanced immune defence, efficient response to vaccines, and less severe allergic reactions.
Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnoea as well circadian rhythm disruption, shift work, having small children or stress-related sleep loss may weaken the immune system.
Evidence indicates that in both the short and long-term, sleep deprivation weakens the immune system and increases the likelihood of catching the flu or the common cold, pain and inflammation in the body and can even lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart problems or neurodegenerative diseases.
Because sleep and the immune system are bidirectionally linked it also means that a weakened immune system can affect our sleep. If our sleep quality is poor, our immune system is jeopardised and if the immune system is activated (ie when we are sick) our sleep patterns can be disrupted.
If you have difficulty going off to sleep or suffer from disturbed sleep you could try:
1) Exercise daily
During waking hours, ensure that you are engaging in a healthy level of exercise to help reduce insomnia and enhance sleep quality. Exercises has been found to reduce the amount of time it takes people to fall asleep and reduce wakefulness through the night.
Ideally exercise earlier in the day. In some people, exercising too late at night can actually stimulate hormones such as epinephrine and adrenaline and increase alertness.
2) Be consistent
Going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each day supports your body's natural circadian rhythm.
It has been found that people with irregular patterns experience poorer quality sleep than those who have a consistent sleep-wake cycle.
3) Keep "Nanna-naps" short
Short power naps during the day - less than 30 minutes - can be beneficial for brain function, energy and alertness.
However, day-time sleeps that extend longer than 30 minutes can negatively impact your internal clock, making it more difficult to go to sleep (or stay asleep) at night.
4) Consider a natural supplement
Some herbs and supplements can help induce relaxation and improve sleep quality.
Melatonin Supplements are often used to treat insomnia and has been found to help people fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more rested.
Valerian Root may (as a tea or capsule) may also help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.
Magnesium (taken orally, applied topically or used as salts in a bath) can assist in relaxation as well as reducing restless legs and night cramps.
Lavender (as an essential oil in a diffuser or room spray) can have a calming and relaxing affect, preparing the body for rest.
A qualified naturopath can help determine which supplement would be the best solution to your sleep concerns.
5) Dial down the digital
Digital devices produce an artificial blue light that can interfere with our circadian rhythm by tricking the brain suppressing the release of melatonin, therefore not signalling your body to relax, wind down and feel sleepy.
Switch of digital devices at least an hour before sleep.
Maintaining good sleep patterns and getting a restful night sleep will have an overall impact on your health, energy and ability to avoid and/or fight off illness.