STONE: Catch more Z’s for better immunity

Between the echoes of coughs, sniffles and sneezes throughout our offices, homes and schools and the bombardment of patients in area clinics and hospitals indicate that this year’s cold and flu season is extremely busy. It’s a stark reminder for us to find opportunities to boost our immune systems necessary to ward off any of these cold and flu related illness, while also equipping our bodies to fight them head in the unfortunate event we, ourselves, become sick. While vaccines, frequent hand washing, and eating lots of fruit and vegetables certainly help, many of us fail to address one of the most important immune boosters of all, getting the proper amount of sleep.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, cancer, increased mortality and reduced quality of life. This also includes wrecking your immune system which also makes you more prone to developing acute illnesses such as the common cold and influenza.

Most people’s sleep deprivation are linked to self-induced patterns of voluntary behaviors, personal obligations or the type of work and hours required of certain professions. Midnight oil is burned in many ways, but whether it is cramming for exams, meeting deadlines or caring for a family member, your body requires a bit of “self help” to incorporate some much needed rest. In today’s world that may seem unattainable and in reality there will be times when sleep eludes you. However, addressing items you can control will help push the tide in your favor to give your body the rest it needs.

Begin by limiting your caffeine throughout the day, especially in the afternoon and evening hours. Caffeine remains in the body for up to six hours, which means your 5:00 p.m. energy drink may have lasting effects beyond the late night talk shows. If you enjoy that cup of Joe or any caffeinated beverage for that matter, choose to drink them at the beginning your day and shut it down after lunch to afford your body an opportunity to wind down before bedtime. Also, be a creature of habit by following a set routine before going to bed. This includes sticking to a set time each night to go to bed and limiting your bed to only two activities, sex (which can also help facilitate sleep) and sleeping. Avoid activities, such as watching television and/or using electronic devices such as tablets, phones and computers; all of which can stimulate the brain enough to restrict your body from falling into a deeper sleep. Other sleep friendly strategies include getting plenty of exercise in the day, eating a small snack but avoiding large meals prior to bed, keep your bedroom dark, and avoid alcohol prior to sleep. Consistently following these practices will provide the immunity boosting effects of a good night’s rest.

If you still find yourself not feeling rested and nothing seems to work, it’s time to see your doctor. It especially becomes important when either you or your partner experience loud snoring, gasping, choking or intermittent periods of not breathing during sleep and/or if you fall asleep at inappropriate times such as during conversations, eating or activities. These instances are signs of more serious underlying causes of sleep deprivation including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy. During your doctor visit, be prepared to discuss your sleep patterns and issues in detail. Keeping a journal of your sleep experiences, also known as a sleep diary, can help you and your doctor better understand what is going on and identify any trends associated with your sleep patterns. The goal between you and your physician should always be to identify underlying causes and not merely treat the symptoms. Prescription sleep aids can be effective, but typically don’t yield long term success.

Sleep should never be taken lightly and is a crucial, but often overlooked and underutilized step in boosting your immunity. Make it a priority by focusing on both the amount of sleep your body needs as well the quality of rest it deserves so you can function at your best, which includes battling this crazy cold and flu season with an immune system on its “A” game.