Here’s some important health advice: getting regular good sleep is essential to ensuring your immune system has the strength for waging battle on any potential foreign invaders. Along with fatigue, moodiness, and reduced concentration, a symptom of inadequate sleep is becoming ill more frequently than normal. Researchers are always studying sleep’s effects on the body. At the University of Toronto, there’s the Center for Sleep and Chronobiology — where scientists studied how the immune system reacted to sleep deprivation. Specifically, they focused on the body’s natural killer cells (the ones that roam free around the body and immediately fight foreign invaders by themselves).
Here’s how the study unfolded: 23 men slept eight hours a night for the first four days. On the fifth night, researchers woke up the men at 3 a.m. — thus removing four hours of their sleep. What happened? This abrupt change in their pattern of sleep caused the activity of natural killer cells to decrease by more than 25% the next day. This is a direct connection between proper sleep and a functioning immune system.
Japanese researchers back this finding in a study just performed at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Kanazawa Medical University. The research team investigated the effects of fatigue on natural killer cell function in nurses performing shift work using a longitudinal design. Fifty-seven female nurses engaged in shift work at a hospital in Japan were selected for the study cohort. Immune parameters measured at the beginning of the day shift through to the end of the night shift were compared between two groups. The research team found that the group with the greater increase in fatigue showed a larger decrease in natural killer cell activity. The researchers concluded that shift work has negative effects on natural killer cell function.
You may not have to do shift work, but the message here is still clear: a good night’s sleep means an immune system that can better fight off disease. With that in mind, here are five alternative remedies for beating sleepless nights.
1. Eat dinner around 6 or 6:30 p.m. so your digestive process is finished and inactive by the time your head hits the pillow.
2. It may be hard, but try going to sleep at 10 p.m. The time between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. is optimal for sleeping; these are the natural hours that your body is designed to be in sync with.
3. If the sun is shining, go and spend a few minutes in the sunshine when you are waking up. Morning light can stimulate serotonin, a hormone that wakes you and helps set your systems in motion.
4. Try cutting stimulants such as caffeine and sugar out of your diet, or at least reduce your intake.
5. Relax your mind through meditation (focus on breathing) or by listening to soothing music.
Do your body some good and follow your doctor’s advice: get a solid night’s sleep and keep foreign invaders at bay.