Enhance your Immunity with these Simple Steps
A robust, healthy immune system can respond to internal and external aggression with the appropriate tactics and proportions. An overreacting immune response is no better than an under-reactive one. In actuality, most exposure to toxic substances and environmental challenges in small amounts is beneficial for the body. This is what we call hormesis. This beneficial effect of low-stress levels effectively protects against many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurodegenerative disorders.
In his article “Hormesis and disease resistance: activation of cellular stress response pathways,“ Mattson defines hormesis as a “biphasic dose response to an environmental agent characterized by a low dose stimulation or beneficial effect and a high dose inhibitory or toxic effect. In biology and medicine, hormesis is defined as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress1.” Mattson gives some examples of hormesis, which include exercise, dietary restriction, cognitive stimulation, exposure to low levels of toxins and phytochemicals, and even some commonly used vitamins and dietary supplements. He also explores how this effect might be beneficial due to the increased cell production of cytoprotective and restorative proteins, like antioxidant enzymes, activation of growth factor signaling pathways, protein chaperones, cell survival genes, and enzymes called sirtuins1,2.
The primary biological trait is the organism’s ability to resist and adapt appropriately to internal and external stresses. The hallmark of aging and disease is the organism’s inability to withstand stress.
Knowing this, we understand that our body is more than capable of managing some degree of external and internal stress. As the being inhabiting this body, it is our role to provide our body with the best help possible.
This means the mental, physical, and spiritual tools it needs to be able to deal with all stressors appropriately. While some may think that means treatments, cutting-edge technology, and pharmaceuticals, at An Oasis of Healing, we believe it means lifestyle. Lifestyle changes are among the most effective, immediately felt, and cost-effective actions you can take to improve your immune system.
What do we mean by lifestyle changes?
Reflect upon your day. How did you feel upon waking up? Did you sleep well? Have you moved your body according to its natural design today? What substances have you given your body to build new cells? Have you paid attention to your feelings and needs? Were you in contact with nature and exposed to sunlight? How have you reacted to stressful or demanding situations?
Based on these questions and Dr. Lodi’s expertise, we provide you with a list of 10 simple ways you can support your immune system naturally by getting proper and restorative sleep.
How you sleep profoundly impacts your immune system and health
Sleep is probably one of the most underestimated human health and immunity factors. Research has shown how insomnia affects the immune system, mainly related to suppressing natural killer (NK) cell activity3,4, lymphocyte counts5, and chronic increases in certain proinflammatory cytokines6,7.
Studies have shown that night-shift workers, which happen to be most nurses, have some of the highest incidences of diabetes and cancer8,9.
Another study published in 2011 concluded that “Prolonged sleep curtailment and the accompanying stress response invoke a persistent unspecific production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, best described as chronic low-grade inflammation, and also produce immunodeficiency, which both have detrimental effects on health10.”
This happens because many immune functions display prominent rhythms in synchrony with the regular 24-h sleep-wake cycle. There is a synergistic action and effect between sleep, circadian rhythm, and the immune system.
For example, many key body detoxification processes, namely the stimulation of the liver/gallbladder cleansing mechanisms, happen between 11 pm and 3 am, a period in which you should already be asleep. If you are awake, you will most probably interfere with these clean-up and repair mechanisms.
Sometime between midnight and 3 am, there is the body reset point. This point is essential for hormonal and body temperature regulation and melatonin production. During our sleep, we go through 90 to 120-minute sleep cycles. In each of these cycles, we go through different stages of sleep. Before the reset point, we are mainly in restorative sleep; after the reset point, we are primarily in REM. The implications of this are enormous: if you go to bed too late or wake up without enough rest, you may deprive yourself of vital restorative or REM sleep.
These are just some of the reasons it is essential to pay attention to the quality and quantity of your sleep and how you build your sleep routine.
Considering how important sleep is, we have a few suggestions that will hopefully improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.
Tips to improve sleep
- Set your bedroom as your sleep space. A comfortable bed, organic and comfortable mattress, and pillows can make all the difference. A cool temperature, between 60 and 67 degrees, is ideal for sleep. Try to have your room completely dark. Use light-blocking curtains if needed.
- Use breathing techniques for relaxation and calmness.
- Design your sleep schedule and stick to it (going to bed and waking up at a set time).
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants (especially later in the day).
- Avoid heavy meals or foods that can be disruptive to your digestive system.
- Stop eating 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. Sleep is the time for repair and rejuvenation, not digestion. You want your digestion to be completed by the time you sleep.
- Avoid bright lights and blue light and reduce the use of electronic devices 1 to 2 hours before sleep. After sunset, use blue blocking glasses and light dimming/ blue light blocking features on your electronic devices. If you get up at night, avoid turning on lights or any devices.
- Try to sleep at least 7 to 8h nightly (sleep duration depends on individual needs) and wake up naturally. Avoid using an alarm that will automatically put you in a high alert state. If you must wake up at a particular time, set up an alarm with a gentle tone, natural sounds, or relaxing music.
- Upon waking, expose yourself to natural sunlight by going outside or sitting in front of a window.
- Start and finish your day with activities that do not overstimulate your brain and keep you in a relaxed state, like meditation and reading.
It’s equally important to be aware of contributing factors that might affect your sleep, like the amount of movement you accumulate throughout your day, practicing yoga and meditation, listening to relaxing music, avoiding long naps during the day, and avoiding stimulants, among others.
- Mattson MP. Hormesis defined. Ageing Res Rev. 2008;7(1):1-7. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2007.08.007
- Mattson MP. Hormesis and disease resistance: activation of cellular stress response pathways. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2008;27(2):155-162. doi:10.1177/0960327107083417
- Cover H, Irwin M. Immunity and depression: insomnia, retardation, and reduction of natural killer cell activity. J Behav Med. 1994;17(2):217-223. doi:10.1007/BF01858106
- Hall M, Baum A, Buysse DJ, Prigerson HG, Kupfer DJ, Reynolds CF 3rd. Sleep as a mediator of the stress-immune relationship. Psychosom Med. 1998;60(1):48-51. doi:10.1097/00006842-199801000-00011
- Savard J, Laroche L, Simard S, Ivers H, Morin CM. Chronic insomnia and immune functioning. Psychosom Med. 2003;65(2):211-221. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000033126.22740.f3
- Burgos I, Richter L, Klein T, et al. Increased nocturnal interleukin-6 excretion in patients with primary insomnia: a pilot study. Brain Behav Immun. 2006;20(3):246-253. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2005.06.007
- Vgontzas AN, Zoumakis M, Papanicolaou DA, et al. Chronic insomnia is associated with a shift of interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor secretion from nighttime to daytime. Metabolism. 2002;51(7):887-892. doi:10.1053/meta.2002.33357
- Eva S. Schernhammer, Francine Laden, Frank E. Speizer, Walter C. Willett, David J. Hunter, Ichiro Kawachi, Charles S. Fuchs, Graham A. Colditz, Night-Shift Work and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the Nurses’ Health Study, JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 95, Issue 11, 4 June 2003, Pages 825–828
- Hansen AB, Stayner L, Hansen J, et al. Night shift work and incidence of diabetes in the Danish Nurse CohortOccupational and Environmental Medicine 2016;73:262-268.
- Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012;463(1):121-137. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
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Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.