More Sleep and Less Stress
Cold and flu season is here again, challenging our immune systems to protect us from annoying invaders. The stress of the New Year, along with less exposure to sun, fresh air and physical activity are the reality for many. We become more susceptible to infection as a result of these factors as well as increased time indoors to exchange germs. We often become ill because we are worn down at the time of this exposure. There are many natural ways that we can optimize our immune function, helping us to prevent or lessen illness and stay healthy throughout the season.
Good sleep is one of our best defenses against illness. Adequate rest is extremely important for over all health and a lack of sleep can be much more damaging than just causing a sense of general fatigue. We feel the effects usually after just one night of poor sleep, but chronic lack of sleep, even by an hour or two per night can have a dramatic effect on our all areas of health, including our immune function. Essentially lack of sleep (we typically need 8 hrs. as adults/night of restful undisturbed sleep) lowers our immune function leading to more sick days.
Tips for more restful sleep:
Moderate exercise during the day- reduces stress and promotes proper continuity between sleep stages. Moderate exercise also reduces chronic inflammation.
Light exposure first thing in the morning and throughout the day- improves alertness and mental function.
Limit overhead and bright artificial light in the evening and close to bed time- dim light in the evening stimulates melatonin production, which balances body rhythms including sleep/wake cycle.
Avoid blue light from TV and laptop or a blue alarm clock as it is stimulating close to bed time.
Ensure a dark, quiet sleeping environment.
Bed before midnight, 10:30 ideally (it is said that each hour before midnight is worth 2 hours).
Limit caffeine intake throughout the day or keep it before noon- some people can have difficulty sleeping with any caffeine consumption at any time during the day.
Wind down before bed with a relaxing routine such as a warm bath with Epsom salts or cup of relaxing herbal tea (passion flower, lemon balm, mint, chamomile are relaxing herbs).
Stress management is one of, if not the most important tools in protecting our health, yet it seems to be the most over-looked. Chronic stress will negate all of our best efforts at optimal health- diet, exercise, supplements etc. despite our best intentions.
Stress is essentially a disturbance in our body’s ability to maintain balance.
Hormones secreted by our adrenal glands- cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine regulate our stress response. Cortisol has a natural daily rhythm that can become disturbed under chronic stress. This imbalance can then wreak havoc on our entire body.
Stress goes far beyond what we normally think of- work, family, daily commute, and relationship problems. Other things that we don’t normally consider to be “Stress” can have the same detrimental effect, such as food intolerances, blood sugar fluctuations, chronic infections, environmental toxins, inflammation and over-exercising.
Tips for managing stress:
Moderate regular exercise: walking, yoga, swimming whatever you enjoy and can manage on a regular basis will help regulate your stress response and boost immunity- make sure not to over do it.
Relaxation and/or mindfulness based activities: Mindfulness based stress reduction, Yoga, meditation- find something you enjoy and can stick with to help intentionally center your mind and tune in to your body.
Good night sleep: see above…
Ensuring optimal nutrition: focus on nutrient dense foods and avoid foods that are refined and processed to lessen blood sugar fluctuation and unnecessary additives. Include healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, fish, nuts and seeds and avocado.
Prioritize joy, laughter and pleasure in your life: figure out where you get these and make sure to include them daily.
NATURALLY BOOST IMMUNITY
PART TWO- DIET AND KEY NUTRIENTS TO PREVENT AND TREAT COLDS AND FLUS
PART THREE- YOU'RE ALREADY SICK, NOW WHAT? HOME REMEDIES AND RECIPES
I am a naturopathic doctor practicing in Toronto, Ontario. I practice evidence-based natural medicine with a focus on ancestral nutrition. I have a special interest in digestive, endocrine and mental health.