Hi friend! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week! Mine has been pretty fantastic thus far. I’ve started working with a couple new consulting clients, have been working on some freelance gigs, and been submitting some articles to a few sites, such as Mind Body Green. It’s been busy, but wonderful! With that in mind I come to the topic of today’s post: The importance of sleep in keeping your stress levels low and immune systems high.
If you read my post from last week, you’ll know that I recently completed Level 1 of my 200hr yoga teacher training. While it was arguably one of the most life-changing, amazing, stupendously fantastical experiences of my entire life, I ended the week with a pretty stuffy nose and raspy smoker’s voice. And the majority of the blame lies in the fact that I was not getting enough sleep during the week.
I stayed with two amazing women and we would often stay up later than was advisable when you’re getting up at 6:30 in the morning. We were having some pretty intense days of practice and classwork, but all was sailing along quite smoothly until the day I decided to push myself just a step too far and do an hour and a half beats and binds class (there was a DJ! It was beyond my control!) after leaving everything I had on the mat during our 3 hour morning practice.
This class was the straw that broke the camels back. I woke up the next day stiffer and snottier than I had been all week and had to spend the last two days of training hella modifying my practice to make it restorative and nourishing for my body. Too bad it took a case of the sniffles to get me there. Proof that even when you know what to do, doing it can be a whole other story.
Anyhoo, with my little foray into subpar health (which thankfully only lasted a couple of days thanks to the sweet tips here and here) as backstory you can see how rest and relaxation play such a huge roll in your overall health and wellness. During the week I was by no means indulging in lots of junk (though there may have been one GF pizza splurge), I was exercising, drinking lots of water, taking my vitamins, and surrounding myself with fabulous people.
Yet by not allowing my body the time it needed to recuperate from the daily stressors I threw her way, she was plunged into a sea of snot and hoarseness. The take away here is that you need to listen to your body. She is often telling you what she needs at any given moment to feel balanced and well. I was exhausted after the day of training/classwork, and knew I should go home, eat a big meal, and pass the hell out, but I didn’t listen.
I’m sure you can relate to this experience as you may sometimes live in a similar state of constant movement either by rushing about all day or by thinking about your to do lists or ruminating on what if scenarios. When you are constantly under stress in this way your body is in something called fight or flight mode, which means your sympathetic nervous system is up and running.
When your SNS is running the show you’re secreting hormones that prevent you from resting, digesting, and healing. In fact, if you stay in fight or flight too long, you san end up getting fat and sick thanks to hormones like cortisol that promote fat accumulation (especially around the tummy!) and suppress immune function.
When your immune system is functioning optimally the discovery of a pathogen causes the IS to start an inflammatory response to rid your body of the invader. This inflammatory response is what is often responsible for your sore throat, stuffy nose, and fever as your body work to bring you back into balance.
Cortisol signals to your body that you’re in danger and causes increased blood pressure, heart rate, and sugar breakdown. It also turns off the inflammatory response in the body, which you need to have in working order to prevent illness. What can happen, however, during times of intense stress is that your body is being constantly barraged by anti-inflammatory messages from cortisol, which means that you’re not fighting off any pathogens you may come into contact with during this time.
When the stressor is removed, you can often see a rebound effect in that you will possibly find yourself getting sick after exams, a big move, or a break up because once cortisol secretion drops, the immune system is able to send a signal to start the inflammatory process of attacking any pathogens you have come into contact with, thus starting the cycle of illness.
So what’s a girl to do? Well by monitoring your daily stressors and doing your best to balance them as they happen, you can hopefully keep your immune system chugging along smoothly every day so that there’s no chance for large amounts of pathogens to build up in your system. Some common stressors include:
- Financial issues
- Anxiety/chronic worrying
- Chronic over-exercising
- Chronic over- or under-eating
- Lack of sleep!
- Toxic chemicals in our food supply and environments
In addition to supporting your body nutritionally to adapt to stress, taking time to rest is also important because it provides the physical cues you need to switch your body from fight or flight mode to rest and digest mode by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.
In order to rebuild muscles, properly digest your food, and maintain a healthy immune system you have to make sure you’re spending a good amount of time in parasympathetic mode. Some great ways to achieve this include:
- Try inhaling to the count of 5 and exhaling to the count of 5 for as little as 1 minute a day. Anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed this is a great way to tell your body that all is safe and well and she/he can relax.
A restorative or yin yoga practice.
- You can read about the sweet benefits here.
Try writing it out.
- Yes I know journaling may sound super lame, but sometimes when you’re stressed about things writing them down, making lists, and organizing your thoughts can help you feel calmer and more in control.
Take time to do something you really enjoy and that calms your mind.
- Reading, painting, cooking, drawing, knitting, whatever floats your boat!
Give yourself permission to take a break
- When you’re feeling tired or rundown, give yourself permission to take a break, even if it’s just sitting quietly for five minutes.
- The quality of this break matters. Don’t just plonk yourself down mindlessly in front of the tv with junk food. Take a nap, go for a slow walk and really take in your surroundings, or do some light stretching.
- Giving yourself permission to take care of your body and mental health is not selfish. It will help keep you healthy and sane so you have more of your awesomeness to give to the world!
Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, but if you’re feeling really rundown, aim for more.
- You can read about some of the specific benefits of a good night’s sleep here.
Well that’s all for today friend. Make sure you check out
Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderfully, whimsical weekend!
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