The Importance of Sleep

I’m sure you’ve heard that sleep is important.  You may even have heard that you should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.  But do you know why?  Do you know what sleep does for your body and how it can help you, especially during times this like?

There’s no doubt – good, quality sleep is super important.  It helps many of our bodily functions from hormones, energy, gut health, and your immune system, just to name a few.  During sleep, your body repairs itself and cleans up some of the damage we do during the day.  The less sleep you get, the less chance your body has to repair itself.

Many things factor into a good night’s sleep, but let’s talk for a moment about the one many of us are already familiar with – melatonin.  Melatonin is produced by our pineal gland, a tiny gland in our brains, at levels that decrease as we age.  (This is in part why babies sleep so well and older people can struggle to sleep.)

Melatonin can also act as a potent antioxidant and has an anti-inflammatory effect which is beneficial to your immune system.  In fact, studies are just beginning to be conducted to investigate the anti-inflammatory effects of melatonin as it relates to coronavirus.  Interestingly, melatonin appears to have a dramatic protective effect to decrease inflammasome activation, as it targets the cytokines that are implicated in the “cytokine storm” associated with coronavirus. Additionally, other work seems to suggest that acute administration of melatonin can counteract inflammatory responses and reduce ventilator induced lung injury.

It is still early, but these initial indications are promising.  So, you can begin to see how/why melatonin is a pretty important hormone.  And while supplementation can be an option, our bodies have the ability to make what we need if we take care to set ourselves up for successful melatonin production.

So to that end, here are a few sleep hygiene tips to help you boost melatonin production, sleep better, and give your immune system a healthy boost:

  • Go outside during the daytime, when the sun is out. This helps signal to your brain when it is “waking” hours (which helps to get your circadian rhythm moving in the right direction).
  • Stop eating at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Use blue light blocking glasses and/or change the light settings on devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. (Ideally you would avoid screens altogether in the evening if possible.)
  • Engage in calming activities during the hour leading up to bedtime, preferably in darker or natural light.   Examples could include reading a (physical) book, taking a bath, curling up with a loved one, sipping on some hot tea, listening to soft, soothing music, etc.
  • Sleep with your phone and other electronic devices away from you (preferably in another room).
  • Try to limit light sources while you are sleeping, whether that is light sources from outside (i.e. street lights) or inside (i.e. alarm clocks or other electronic devices).  Using an eye covering for sleep can help block out light if you aren’t able to otherwise block out the light sources.

These tips are useful at any time, but especially now when we are all feeling a little uneasy and more stressed.  Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do for your overall help and well being.

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