For many years I had a love hate relationship with sleep. I wanted to sleep through the night but just was not able to. First it was newborn babies- while they are just about the best thing in the world to have, they are a sure fire way to make sure you don’t get much sleep at all. Sleeping has always been one of my favorite things to do. Having babies really messed that up for me. Once they slept through the night I was back to my blessed eight hours a night and happy once again until there was some sort of stressful situation. I don’t manage stress well- it takes some real practice on my part. When I don’t manage stress well I don’t sleep well. When I was working, managing 3 kids and having a husband that traveled a lot while going through my nutrition program I was having regular, nightly, nightmares. Waking up with a racing heart and having to take about 2 hours to fall back asleep. That on top of sleeping with someone who snores meant I did what ever it took to get good sleep aside from taking sleeping pills. I was a complete bear to be around and what little sleep I was getting affected my ability to learn. I had to read things several times for them to stick and my health really declined.
What role does sleep play in Autoimmune Disease?
SLEEP IS HUGELY IMPORTANT!
- Sleep is huge in regulating cortisol which is key to stress management
- Sleep is huge in helping the body detoxify
- Sleep is huge in allowing the body to heal itself
Circadian Rhythms: both sleeping and being awake are circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythym is a repeatable 24 hour process. We evolved with a cycle revolving around the 24 hours in a day. Our bodies are adapted to to they cycle.
This cycle influences behaviors at specific times of the day
- when you wake up
- when you get tired
- when you are hungry
- how cold or hot you feel
- the growth of cells and cell repair
You have cells in your retina that respond to light. Not only the ones that help you actually see but there are cells that affect your internal clock. There are cells in the brain that work with the cycle of your environment (when it gets light and dark). Staying on your electronic devices after the sun goes down, watching television or even having a light on at night can tell your brain that it is not time to go to sleep yet. So while your body is probably very ready for some rest and repair your brain thinks it should be awake still. Getting these rhythms off can have hormone levels higher during the night and lower during the day. It can explain bouts of lower energy, feeling groggy in the morning, etc. All of this can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, cancer, inflammation and autoimmune disease.
If you have an autoimmune disease you can be certain that sleep or lack thereof plays an important role in how well you are doing. It can be the cause of an issue or a contributing factor in your health or the worsening of it. Having your clock be off basically leads to inflammation.
Having autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue feeds in to the vicious cycle of sleep. A little bit of pain can disrupt your sleep and the poor sleep increases your pain. If you have brain fog or have trouble concentrating it can be because your body is working hard to fight off infection. Certain immune cells will actually make you feel tired.
You may feel tired but your sleep quality is not great which again, feeds in to the vicious cycle.
There is a lot to learn in the scientific field of sleep. One thing science knows for sure is that sleep helps you process all that you did during the day and getting your body and brain ready for doing what it needs to do the following day. If you are not getting the sleep you need at night you are keeping your body from being able to process all that happens in a day and get you ready for the day to come.
Not getting enough sleep compromise your behavior leading to accidents, lower coordination, decreased reaction to things and bad balance. Several studies at Stanford University show that having more sleep time or just more time in bed leads to better accuracy and performance in a sport. All positive benefits.
There are three factors that make a difference when it comes to the sleep you are getting:
When are you sleeping?
- do you go to sleep around the same time every night? Having a regularly scheduled bedtime and sticking to it the best you can allows for your body to establish the proper rhythm for good health. Binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix until midnight is just what you don’t want to do. Just say no to one more episode. Why is that so darn hard to do? It is so very important to your health to learn to say no. That episode will be there tomorrow.
How long are you sleeping?
Are you getting at least eight hours a night?
Is your sleep restorative?
making sure you get good quality sleep means your body can repair itself. If you are constantly stressed you will be sure that your body will be awake for at least some portion of the time you should be sleeping. If you don’t manage your blood sugar you can be woken in the night by cortisol as it tries to help manage your blood sugar.
- Are you waking up in the middle of the night? Is your room too hot or too noisy?
- Getting outside and exposing yourself to the light for at least 30 minutes and doing some sort of activity play a role in your quality of sleep. Indoor light at night will change your circadian rhythms if you don’t do this. The great part is, it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes all at once, it can be 30 minutes total.
What can you do to ensure your sleep quality is better?
- Manage your stress through exercise, meditation or even therapy.
- Get amber light bulbs- they filter out the blue light that tricks your brain in to thinking it is daytime.
- Make sure your room is void of any type of light. Get black out curtains if you know you need complete darkness to sleep well. You could also get a sleep mask which would be a heck of a lot cheaper than black out curtains.
- Wake up without an alarm clock if you can. It is best to let your body wake up when it is ready. If you are getting optimal sleep, you probably won’t need it. This means going to bed on time and the earlier the better.
- You can wear blue blocking glasses to watch television in the evening or for looking at an electronic device. You can find them inexpensively on Amazon.com. You can also install something on your computer called f.lux which will gradually remove the blue light from the screen as it gets darker outside.
The important thing to take away is to know that having good sleep is good for your health. Try changing up what you do for two to three weeks and see if you notice a difference in how you feel and how well you perform during the day.
Tell me in the comments below what kind of sleep issues you struggle with.