When we sleep, our bodies produce a protein called cytokines, which target infection and inflammation, creating an immune response. Our bodies also produce T-cells during sleep, which are white blood cells that play a critical role in our body’s immune response to an infectious disease such as COVID-19.
Ideally, our bodies require seven to nine hours of quality sleep to recharge and to keep our immune system strong. Jennifer Rose V. Molano, MD, UC Health neurologist and associate professor in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Integrative Health and Wellness affiliate, reminds us, “Prioritizing sleep and allowing your body to rest can stabilize your mood, energize you and fuel your resilience, especially during these challenging times.”
Here are a few tips on how to maintain better sleep habits:
Consistent, High-Quality Sleep
Consistency is one of the most important elements in getting a quality night’s sleep. As with any habit, our bodies get used to a routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps your body create a routine that promotes better sleep. Making sure not to nap (or limit naps to no more than 30 minutes) during the day will also help to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
The Myth of “Catching-Up” on Sleep
This consistency is more important than we might think. Many people operate on the myth that you can “catch-up” on lost sleep by sleeping more one night after one or more nights of restlessness or little sleep at all. This is not the case. Too much sleep throws off this consistency even more, making it more difficult to find quality sleep the following night.
Sleep Consistency and Hormones
Your body and brain are driven by consistent release and recovery of hormones. The release of many types of hormones on a regular basis play a role in overall health. Consistent sleep acts as the regulator that determines how and when many of these hormones are released.
Our modern lifestyles are a major factor in our own sleep deprivation, but consistent high-quality sleep is a non-negotiable element for a long, healthy and happy life.
Change Your Sleeping Environment
Environment plays a large role in sleep quality. We tend to have more restful sleep in a quiet, dark and cool room. Try blackout curtains, a sleep mask, earplugs or a fan to help create the ideal sleep environment.
Our circadian rhythms or internal body clock are trained to respond to light. Prior to the technology of artificial light created by electricity, humans' sleep-wake cycles were tuned to the natural day-to-night cycle of the sun. When the sun goes down, and it becomes night, our brain releases melatonin that helps us to feel tired and incentivize falling asleep. When the sun comes up the next morning, our eyes and skin react telling our bodies to release chemicals that incentivize wakefulness. This is why even a small amount of artificial light at night can disrupt normal sleep.
Similar to the above, our bodies are naturally tuned to fall asleep and stay asleep in cooler environments because the natural temperatures that occur at night are cooler than those that occur in the daytime. The regulated temperatures of our modern homes can confuse this, but luckily there are ways to program our thermostats to mimic the type of temperature changes that occur outdoors. The use of an extra fan can also help with this.
Sound & Noise
Noise cancellation is another important factor in promoting consistent quality sleep. Helpful methods for blocking out noises can also include using a white noise machine. Pro tip: a box fan can act as both a noise canceller and a cooling agent in your sleeping environment.