Focusing on the quality of my food has led me to think more about my health, which is especially important at a time like this.  With all the news stories that we are bombarded with, it can be very easy to become fearful and feel like we don’t have any control.  That’s why it can be helpful to read articles like this that give us practical knowledge like how reducing stress and quality sleep can prevent illnesses and help us heal faster.

Can I Boost My Immune System? – Fears about coronavirus have prompted online searches and plenty of misinformation about how to strengthen the immune system. Here’s what works — and what doesn’t

Getting a good night sleep can depend not only on the foods we eat, but when.  You would think, for example, that eating foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower would be inherently healthy, but I recently learned that eating these foods too late at night can negatively affect sleep quality because they take longer to digest

For more information on sleep, author, neuroscientist, and neuroscience professor Matthew Walker gave this talk at Google, which I taught me more about sleep than I have learned throughout my entire life.  Here are some key points:

  • The number of people who can objectively survive on than 7 hours of sleep or fewer without showing any impairment rounded to a whole number and expressed as a percentage of the population is 0. 
  • If you would sleep past your alarm, you’re not done with sleep yet.  And hitting the snooze button repeatedly is detrimental.
  • Consistent exposure to electronic devices for an hour before sleep delays release of melatonin and disrupts the quality of sleep and exposure shortly after waking up increases anxiety.  It’s much better to read a book for an hour than on an iPad. 
  • Caffeine consumed within 14 hours of sleep will reduce the quality of your sleep.
  • If you are going to drink alcohol, it’s best to drink in the morning to ensure it’s out of your system by the time you sleep.  Alcohol is a sedative, but sedation is not sleep.  It will fragment your sleep with awakenings throughout the night, and blocks your dream/REM sleep.
  • Daylight savings time when we lose an hour of sleep is the most dangerous day of the year, causing a significant increase in heart attacks, car accidents, suicides, and harsher sentences handed out by judges (this happens if they haven’t eaten enough too!).
  • Drowsy driving is more dangerous than drunk driving because unlike drunk driving when your reactions are slower, drowsy driving causes you to have no reactions at all.
  • Lack of sleep leaves you more vulnerable to infections.
  • Flu shots are largely useless for people who are sleep deprived.
  • You will get better sleep if you match the time your body is ready to sleep with the time you go to sleep (known as your sleep chronotype).
  • Don’t lie awake in bed too long.  Instead get up and read a book because you don’t want your body associating your bed with being awake.
  • Beauty sleep is real.  Experiments show a lack of sleep causes a noticeable difference in our physical appearance.
  • Sleep allows us to hit the save button to ensure learning is retained.
  • Children have a different body clock than adults causing them to naturally fall asleep later.  For that reason, early school start times cause sleep deprivation, and studies throughout the U.S. and Europe have shown that delaying school start times results in better grades, fewer car accidents, and a decrease in behavior problems, truancy rates, and psychological and psychiatric referrals
  • Experiments with delaying school start times resulted in a 212 point increase in SAT scores from 1,288 to 1,500 among the top 10% performing students, which are the students who would seem to have the least to gain from increased sleep.
  • There is a 40% deficit in the brain’s ability to make new memories without sufficient sleep.  This is the difference between acing and failing an exam. 
  • Keep children’s toys out of the bedroom because toys are associated with fun which makes sleep more difficult.
  • Lost sleep cannot be made up as though you are paying off debt.
  • Simply sleeping only four hours in just one night causes a 70% drop in immune cell activity.
  • It’s best to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day including weekends.  Regularity is king.
  • Your core body temperature needs to drop by about 1 degree celcius to fall asleep and stay asleep.  That’s why it’s easier to fall asleep when it’s too cold rather than too hot.
  • Lack of sleep increases injury risk for athletes.
  • Doctors will have about 1 and a half hours of sleep education.  This is less than one percent of the medical curriculum that is concerned with sleep.
  • Try and get at least some sunlight each day.
  • Insufficient sleep is the most significant lifestyle factor for determining if you will develop Alzheimer’s disease and that evidence is causal.  Just one night of deep sleep deprivation causes an increase in the amount of beta amyloid, which is tied to Alzheimer’s. 
  • No psychiatric conditions have been found where sleep is normal.
  • One week of short sleep would cause a doctor to classify you as pre-diabetic
  • The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong that recently the World Health Organization decided to classify any form of night time shift work as a probable carcinogen.  In other words, jobs that may induce cancer because of a disruption of your sleep weight rhythms. 
  • Your subjective sense of how well you think you’re doing without sufficient sleep is a miserable predictor of objectively how you are doing without sufficient sleep.  It’s like people who are drunk who think they are fine to drive.

I would also recommend checking out Sleepopolis, which has a great deal of educational information on improving sleep such as this article

Now that so many of us are working from home and don’t have to take time to commute to work, we have a great opportunity to get more sleep and improve our sleep hygiene.  As Dr. Walker says, “When sleep is abundant, minds flourish”.

And by avoiding the use of electronic devices before sleep, we can use that time to read, journal our thoughts, or meditate, the latter two are shown to reduce stress, which can also protect us from illnesses. 

To get started with meditation, a few books I would recommend are Dzogchen: The Self Perfected State, Love on Every Breath: Tonglen Meditation for Transforming Pain into Joy, Train Your Mind Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, and Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.

With a basic knowledge of sleep science and stress management, we can all greatly improve our health and increase our sense of self-efficacy, something we truly need in a time of such fear, uncertainty, and crackdowns on our way of life.