Sleep deprivation and insomnia affect negatively the immune defense system decreasing by 30% the NK T cells (natural killers) activity. These natural killer T cells are responsible to destroy damaged cancerous, or infected cells in our body and their stock is limited. According to several studies, sleep deprivation and insomnia double the risk of obesity and increase the risk of heart disease as well.
Good quality sleep is important for health, for the immune system, and to decelerate aging. Impairment from sleep deprivation is equivalent to that from alcohol intoxication.
Sleep is very much a habit. It is also a learned behavior. This means you can retrain your mind and body to get back into the habit of sleeping well. But it takes practice.
Sleep conditioning is most successful if you follow these steps consistently:
- Go to bed and wake up about the same time each day: The Eastern health discipline known as Ayurveda recognizes and values the timing of cycles during the day. According to the practice, cycles progress in six four-hour units, beginning with awakening at 6:00 a.m. and with bedtime ideally set at 10 p.m. This pattern allows for eight hours of sleep and is said to be harmonious with the activity of the human mind and body (biological clock).
- If you can’t sleep till the wee hours, reset your cycle by going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier every two or three days.
- Create a peaceful sleep environment: No noise, television, computers, or pagers should be present. Most important: darkness. Your clock shouldn’t be glowing, light shouldn’t be shining under your door.
- Don’t overstimulate: Avoid watching the news on TV, surfing Internet new sites, or answering work related e-mails before bed. Disturbing images and current events, or troublesome e-mails from work, will keep your mind churning and make it much more difficult to fall asleep.
- Avoid heavy meals late in the evening.
- Avoid alcohol late in the afternoon and evening. Alcohol might help you fall asleep but it may interrupt your sleep later at night.
- If you smoke, quit. If you won’t quit, avoid nicotine late in the afternoon and evening.
- Avoid caffeine late in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine’s effect reaches its peak 1- 4 hours after it is consumed and can exert its stimulant effect for up to 7 hours.
- Don’t overdo night time liquid intake: The urge to urinate is a common reason to awaken during the night. Try reducing fluid intake two hours before bedtime.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves the quality of sleep especially among the elderly. Avoid strenuous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Use aromatherapy: Certain aromas may help you sleep- aromatherapy oils can have a soothing effect on the body. Although tastes vary from person to person, some oils that seem effective include lavender, jasmine, geranium, and marjoram. You can place five to eight drops in a presleep bath, or buy an aromatic diffuser and let the odor waft through the room. You can also massage your face with a few drops or put some drops in your pillow before you sleep.
- Establish a relaxing pre-bed routine such as taking a warm bath (if you feel a little achy, add one-half cup Epson salts -magnesium sulfate- to the water, plus an equal measure, of baking soda -sodium bicarbonate-) reading or meditating, this allows you to unwind and send a signal to your brain that it is time to sleep.
- Develop a dream mantra: A mantra is a mental pattern on which to focus. Try conjuring one up before going to bed. A mantra doesn’t have to be verbal. You can use an image, a thought, or a feeling. But your mind quiets down when you can lead it to focus on just one thing. Some people would like the phrase “I am so happy to be in bed”, and others can create a lovely image of a place where no one can bother them.
- If you can create a successful dream mantra, eventually other intrusive thoughts will dissipate and you can drift into sleep. With practice, you can get so good that you can almost immediately fall asleep after conjuring up your dream mantra.
- Don’t use your bed for anything but sleeping (and lovemaking): If you use your bed to answer e-mails, watch TV, or talk on the phone, you are sending the wrong message to your brain.
- Diet: Include in your diet more frequently plenty of lettuce, bananas, apple, fresh cheese, turkey, whole cereals, lentils, avocado and fish. All these food have an essential amino acid called Tryptophan that serves as a precursor for Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the body regulate sleep patterns, mood and appetite.
- Don’t go to bed angry: If you are mad at your mate, talk it out. Don’t take the issue to bed with you. Lying in bed stewing in your own juices will activate your immune system and prevent you from falling asleep.
- If you do not fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing like listening to soothing music or reading a book. Don’t obsess about sleep. The more worried you are about it, the tougher it gets.