I would argue that sleep is THE most essential thing you can do for a healthy immune response, yet insomnia is one of the biggest issues I see in practice, and it often derails even the best efforts to achieve weight loss and other health goals.
The optimum 7-9 hours of sleep can be broken down into 5 stages:
- Light sleep, which is actually divided into two stages, and transitions the body into
- Deep sleep, which is also divided into two stages, and finally,
- REM (rapid eye movement), the stage where most dreaming occurs
Deep sleep is when a lot of crucial processes take place:
- Waste is flushed away from the brain
- Bones, tissues and cells grow and are repaired
- Hormones, such as growth hormone, are released from the pituitary
- Blood pressure drops
- Blood flow increases to the muscles, promoting energy restoration
- Brain glucose metabolism increases, supporting short and long-term memory and learning
- The immune system releases cytokines, some of which promote sleep
- Infection-fighting antibody production is enhanced by deep sleep
These things are skimped on when you don’t get sufficient amounts of deep sleep.
Because the body is most vulnerable during deep sleep, it prioritizes this stage of sleep early in the night so you can get to a rested place sooner, should danger arise. This is why you’ve heard you can’t “catch up” on sleep; deep sleep stages decline in frequency and length of time as you move into early morning hours.
A common issue I’ve seen in practice is ignoring the fatigue that sets in around 9- 9:30pm. Most patients find they don’t sleep as well when they delay bedtime in order to “get more done.” This is because the adrenals must respond with cortisol output to give you that “second wind.” Cortisol should be at its lowest at bedtime, allowing for more restful sleep; once cortisol has been released into the system, it has a half-life….this means it will take a few hours to completely clear the system, interfering with the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.
During REM sleep, the brain is very active, yet the body is very inactive. Sufficient REM is critical for:
- Robust immune response
- Forming new memories
- Stimulating/balancing the central nervous system
- Restoring brain chemistry to a normal balance
REM sleep loss is associated with:
- Higher susceptibility to viruses and other infections
- Increased inflammatory responses
- Increased risk for obesity
- Short and long-term memory problems
Sleep apnea,often associated with a complete or near-complete loss of REM, is associated with an increased risk for CVD, diabetes, obesity and depression.
So how can you improve sleep, and therefore immunity, among other aspects of vibrant health?
- Make sure you exercise. But do it in the morning as the resulting endorphin rush can interfere with sleep.
- Limit caffeine or cut it out altogether. At the very least, limit consumption to morning since many of us are slow metabolizers of caffeine.
- Stage some white noise (fan, soft music or other) if noises inside or outside tend to wake you during the night.
- Have a calming routine 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. Dimmer lights, relaxing music, a hot bath, whatever you can be consistent with.
- Avoid blue light after 8pm. Blue light from screens (TV, computer, tablet or cell phone) suppresses melatonin production. Many devices now have a feature that allows you to schedule blue light to turn off at a specific time, or you could consider purchasing blue blocker glasses, easily found online.
- Avoid simple carbs and sugar just before bed since this can boost energy, soon followed by a drop in glucose levels, which triggers cortisol release. (Some healthier ideas are below.) Remember the half-life issue with cortisol from earlier in this article.
- The sleep/wake cycle is important too. Try to stay consistent with your bedtime as this improves sleep quality.
- Lastly, supplements can help. A few of my favorites, with dosing, are below.
Ideas for a balanced snack before bed:
- Sunflower butter and 1/2 apple
- Hummus and raw veggies
- Portion of protein bar or protein shake
- Whole grain crackers w/sunflower butter, hummus or guacamole
- Guacamole and celery or other veg for dipping
Dosing info on our favorite sleep supplements:
3-6 mg for most, though dosing up to 20 mg is safe (higher doses are commonly used with cancer)
Melatonin has antioxidant effects and blocks inflammatory cytokines, two reasons it has been shown to reduce the severity of COVID. It’s usually my first recommendation at this time for these reasons, as well as affordability.
Normally produced by the pineal gland in response to waning daylight, melatonin readies the body for sleep. Bright lights and blue light from TV, phone, iPad, etc can interfere with production, as can traveling to different time zones. Taking too much melatonin, or taking it too late in the evening, can result in morning grogginess, so adjust your dose and/or timing accordingly.
Alpha GABA PM
Take 1-2 capsules near bedtime
Each capsule contains 3 mg melatonin, 400 mg l-theanine (naturally calms brain waves by boosting GABA), valerian, lemon balm and 5HTP (precursor to melatonin and calming to the brain).
500-1500 mg near bedtime, on empty stomach or with a small snack.
This amino acid is a precursor to 5HTP and serotonin, both of which support healthy sleep.
Perfect Sleep (available in drops and tabs)
Take 10-30 drops or 1-3 tabs at or near bedtime. Some people get their best results if they begin dosing with dinner and get 2-3 doses in before bedtime. This gets ahead of cortisol production that takes hours to clear from the bloodstream.
500-1000 mg taken at bedtime (this form should not impact bowels)
2-4 caps at or near bedtime
Cerenity PM is a blend of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that support sleep.
At Leaves of Life, we’ve been using CBD with our patients for over 4 years, and what we’ve learned is that different plant profiles affect people differently. While some companies producing CBD products utilize the leaves and stalk, some utilize the leaves and flower, or the flower only, each of which produces a different plant profile. The message here is that if you’ve only tried one brand of CBD and it’s been unsucessful, you should certainly give CBD another try.
For information about dosing for different goals, as well as an in-depth dive into how CBD works, click here to read our previous blog series.
I hope this information soon has you sleeping soundly!