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Understanding Sleep & Immunity!
Right now we are all thinking about how we can live well to keep our immune systems strong to fight off virus and infection. Guess what is at the cornerstone of a healthy immune system? Sleep! When it comes to the pillars of health, sleep is something we can’t cut corners on if we want to help our bodies defences fight off infection.

What role does sleep play in immunity?

While we sleep the body produces and releases cytokines. This is a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. Thus creating an immune response. So, if you are not sleeping the recommended level of sleep then your body is not getting the opportunity to produce this important protein to fight off infection.

How Much Sleep do I Need?

Understanding Sleep & Immunity!
For an adult, it would be recommended to have an average of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. For a child, the recommendation would vary per age range. For younger children up to 16 hours including naps. For older children somewhere in the region of 9-11 hours.

Research, Sleep & Immunity!

When working with families I often refer to the book, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Walker is a renowned sleep neurologist and in his book, he brings us through clinical research the looks at the mysterious world of sleep in a way that everyone can understand. He cites examples that relate the research to our own day to day lives – making it all relevant and real.

In a section of the book, he looks at the role of sleep in immune response and fighting infection. Walker looks at a study that was conducted where those involved were infected with a cold in a controlled setting. The study found that the people who had less sleep prior to infection were more likely to become sick following infection. Specifically, those who slept 5 hours on average were 50% more likely to become infected and those sleeping 7 hours or more were at an infection rate of just 18%. So the findings of this study were clear. The less sleep the participants had the more likely they were to become ill. Walker goes on to state that prolonged sleep deprivation is recognised as being an issue however he looks at how just a few nights of shorter sleep phases can negatively impact immunity.

Understanding Sleep & Immunity!
Walker says, "Sleep fights against infection and sickness by deploying all manner of weaponry within your immune arsenal, cladding you with protection. Reduce sleep, even for a single night, and that invisible suit of immune resilience is rudely stripped from your body".

So, what Walker references here is very relevant to what we now know about the role that sleep plays in the production of cytokines. Without adequate levels of sleep, this protein is not getting the opportunity to be produced at its optimum level and thus our immune response would be lowered.

5 Simple Ways to Protect Your Sleep for Better Immunity!

Understanding Sleep & Immunity!
Obviously, sleep is just one factor when it comes to boosting immunity in the human body. Diet, exercise and overall health and well being are extremely important factors too. But, what can you do to protect your sleep so that you are helping your immune response is at its optimum level to fight infection?
  1. Create a calm restful space for sleep. Declutter your sleep environment and ensure it is a space of calm rather than chaos.
  2. Remove all screens from your bedroom. Revert to reading prior to sleep time rather than endless scrolling.
  3. Set a regular bedtime. I like 10 pm! This might be early for some but by getting into bed at a regular time you help to set your circadian rhythm & your body will thrive on the routine.
  4. Don’t exercise too late in the day! I have a whole blog post related to sleep and exercise!
  5. Make sleep a priority in your home. If you are experiencing difficulties around your family sleep then take some time to figure out what could be tweaked to create more valuable sleep for the family.
The Benefits of Exercise in Healthy Sleep!
To say I love sleep is an understatement but it wasn’t until my sleep was interrupted when my first child was born - true sleep ninja – that I really understood how important it was to my overall health and wellbeing. When I wasn’t sleeping really anything in terms of my health and well being was in line. My mental health suffered hugely as did my physical health. I ate poorly & I simply didn’t have the energy to do the exercise that I loved prior to having him.

I am a runner, I love to run. I love nothing more than putting on my runners and heading out the front door for some alone time with the road and my music. When I come back from a run my mind is clearer and my mood is uplifted. But, when I wasn’t sleeping I simply didn’t have the energy or the mindset to motivate myself to hit the road.

Once I worked on shaping my little ones sleep and settled him into a good sleeping pattern via my 7 Steps to Better Sleep that all turned around. My sleep improved and everything became so much better. However, I still found that my body was inclined towards waking at time frames where I would have been typically awake dealing with his waking.

So, I put my runners back on and hit the road again (not in the middle of the night) and the improvements in my sleep were almost instant. I started to initiate sleep more easily and maintain sleep more deeply.

How can exercise positively impact your sleep?

Exercise has very a very powerful ability to improve sleep quality. Exercise has the ability to contribute to deeper, sounder & more restful sleep. It will increase the amount of time spent in non-rem (deep sleep) which is more restorative than REM (light) sleep. This will boost your overall health including cardiac function, stress, anxiety & immune functions.

The Benefits of Exercise in Healthy Sleep!
Both sleep and exercise are huge stress relievers. Both together in optimum amounts are fantastic for dealing with both anxiety and stress. Stress is a common contributor to sleep problems and by using exercise to boost positive mood hormones & reduce cortisol levels you will be going a long way to give your body the ability to maintain and initiate restful sleep.

Physical activity requires you to use up energy. This in turn makes you feel more tired and puts your body in the right place to rest at the end of the day. Regular activity, such as my beloved running, can boost sleep duration. Sleep duration and sleep quality together result in consolidated restorative sleep that supports our overall health.

How much exercise would help sleep?

The recommendation is that we exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. This coupled with a regular routine & supportive sleep habits will go a long way towards the rested sleep we all desire.

Can exercise cause sleep problems?

There are studies that show exercising too close to bedtime can negatively impact on sleep. Avoid exercising in the few hours prior to bedtime if at all possible – particularly if you find that it has a negative impact on your sleep quality. The reason for this is body temperature. As our bodies prepare us for sleep we experience a body temperature shift – it drops. This along with the sleepy hormone melatonin allows us to feel drowsy. Exercise increases our body temperature and as such exercising too close to bedtime could impact the body being able to do this key body process for sleep initiation and thus keep you awake or impact your sleep quality. The use of sleep tracking devices can be useful for this, however, I would always be mindful as to how accurate trackers really are.

When should I exercise for better sleep?

Morning and up to 6 pm in the evening is best. You would like to have not exercised in the 2.5-3 hours prior to bedtime to avoid the body temperature increase that is detailed above.

Can exercise help my child sleep?

The Benefits of Exercise in Healthy Sleep!
Yes! All of this is key when it comes to children too. Children need physical activity in order for them to be tired enough to initiate their sleep, maintain their sleep & for it to be the quality sleep needed to support their growth and development. Making sure that children get 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day, preferably outside, will play a key role in their overall health and sleep. It doesn’t have to be complicated – kicking a ball in the garden will suffice and will give them that one to one time that they crave with their parents.

To help us on our journey to restful sleep and overall health & wellness I asked Fitness Expert, Karl Henry, to give me his top tips on coming together as a family to achieve success;

1. Work as a team

The Benefits of Exercise in Healthy Sleep!
I feel that it’s so important to work as a unit to improve the health of your family. If your children need to lose weight then lecturing them will not be effective as they will rebel against you, instead, a family approach where everyone is involved is often better, as you are now leading by example, showing them that you are getting involved too.

2. Let each member choose an activity

This is often one of the key points that make all the difference to any programme with families. We all like different sports and we live in a country that has an incredible amount of sports on offer. Every week or every month, let one person in the family choose what activity they want to do. This not only makes them happy it also exposes everyone to a whole host of sports that you would not normally do. Staying fit for life is all about finding a sport or sports that you like to do and this is a way to ensure that you all get to try as many sports as possible.

3. Get your children involved in cooking

I am always amazed at the lack of cooking and food knowledge that teenagers have when I do lectures in schools. Why not get your family involved in cooking as well, dictating one evening a week where each person cooks the meal, or shops for the ingredients or gets involved with some form of the meal? This is essential in giving your children the life tools to cook for themselves in later life.

4. Health based rewards

We all love treats and rewards for doing good and achieving our goals. Why not make these treats health based in some way, like clothes or runners or some other sport-related item?

5. Limit computer game time

With each new computer console on the market, comes so new way of online interaction that seems to increase the addictiveness of the games. This can lead to an unhealthy amount of time being spent playing the games. In my opinion, these games should be limited to a certain amount of time so that there is time in the day for activity. Government recommendations aim for 60 minutes a day of activity for children and teenagers but with Pe in schools being reduced with decreasing budgets this often isn’t happening.

6. Treat day each week

Just like our packages with adult clients, I feel that one treat day a week is important. This creates a balanced approach to weight loss and health. If you aim to cut out every type of junk and high sugar food from your families diet then you can be guaranteed you will face a near mutiny from your children. Why not aim to have one day a week when you are going to have a treat day, having a different treat each time, again reinforcing the idea that fast food is ok, just in small amounts.

These are some of the key tips that I give to my clients to help them improve the health of their families and children. It’s not a radical approach, it’s just simple tips that will make a big big difference to you, your family and the future health of your children.

To learn more about Karl Henry check out his website www.karlhenry.ie

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