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Sleep in crisis?

Although sleep is not a panacea for any illness, it is a vital component of staying healthy. As Dr. Breus reminds us, it is necessary for the production of T Cells, which are white blood cells that play a critical role in the immune system’s response to viruses. A good night’s sleep also supports the release and production of cytokine, a multifaceted protein that helps the immune system quickly respond to antigens.

The sleep-stress connection

Are you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because of stress? After a poor night’s sleep are you tending to feel more anxious?

In fact, stress and sleep exist in a bi-directional relationship. Just as stress and anxiety trigger insomnia and other sleep problems, lack of sleep increases stress and anxiety. Poor sleep makes us more vulnerable to the symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Irritability and short-temperedness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Struggles with motivation
  • Trouble with concentration and memory recall
  • Lack of energy
  • Increased emotional reactivity

Three go-to stress reducers advised by Dr. Breus

 Deep breathing

 Deep, slow, self-aware breathing is an ancient, powerful way to clear the body of stress and tension, and a great way to relax as part of a nightly transition to sleep.

Try the 4-7-8 breathing method:

In a comfortable position, with your eyes open or closed:

  • Inhale for 4 seconds
  • Hold breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale slowly, for 8 seconds
  • Repeat several times

By deep breathing before bedtime, you are, in a way, mimicking the breathing patterns of sleep onset, and nudging your body and mind toward its all-important period of rest.

Guided imagery

Guided imagery is another component of a nightly pre-bed routine. Spending a few minutes engaged in a soothing, restful guided image journey – such as imagining yourself floating peacefully in a calm ocean, being rocked by gentle waves and covered by a warm breeze – can help you gently separate from the stresses of the day and prepare the mind and body to sleep.

Progressive relaxation

 This mind-body relaxation technique is a simple, striking way to become familiar with your body and the places where you hold stress and tension. Progressive relaxation involves working one at a time with different areas and muscle groups of the body, first tensing and relaxing them. This practice cultivates an awareness of what both tension and relaxation feel like in your body. With that awareness you become better prepared to address that physical tension and any mental or emotional stress that accompanies it.

Used as part of a nightly power down routine, progressive relaxation can help you release physical and mental tension that, left unaddressed, can interfere with sleep. A typical progressive relaxation routine starts at the lowest point of the body—the feet—and works gradually up to the top of the head, tensing and relaxing every area of the body along the way.

What if you are already sick?

Sleep is imperative for recovering from illness and improving your weakened immune system. But, when you can’t breathe, have chills and body aches, headaches, and just feel poorly overall, sleep can be hard to find. Here are top tips for getting better sleep when you are ill.

  • Sleep as much as possible – it sounds funny, but your body needs a lot of rest to heal quickly
  • Increase your total sleep time by two hours
  • Remember to stay cool to help create a better sleeping environment
  • Change linens frequently to help control bacterial or virus spread
  • Keep a HEPA air filter running in your room and consider adding a humidifier
  • Use a bed wedge to keep your chest raised to avoid additional congestion and postnasal drip
  • Be sure not to accidently mix medicines that make you sleep. For example, don’t take Benadryl® with other types of pain medications

Finally, why not take advantage of this “calming the mind” guided imagery meditation by Dr. Breus.


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