5 Practices to Impact Immunity & Joy

Today’s practice to support your immunity – and joy – is PILLOW: How to activate your sleep center to rejuvenate brain & body.

It’s vitally important to understand that your brain needs around 8-9 hours of sleep each day, to clear your thoughts and process the events of our day, as well as navigate any psychological issues it handles AND go through a natural detoxification process.

Many of us acknowledge we do not get enough sleep.

This may have to do with:

a) stress / distress pathways 
b) caffeine consumption
c) watching action movies until late at night
d) ruminating and thinking anxious thoughts
e) checking off to-do lists
f) all of the above- or generally just letting responsibilities carry over into your restoration time.

The list is long!

It turns out that this sleep issue is absolutely pivotal.

Some of us are lucky in that we don’t actually suffer from insomnia, but maybe we haven’t yet decided to make sleep a critical priority.

You may appreciate that it matters, but not understand the magnitude to which it matters. Whether or not you suffer from insomnia, it is vital that you make sleep a priority and get eight to nine hours of quality sleep per night.

Most of us have heard of some simple practices that we can implement to promote sleep, such as devoting a room solely to sleep, with no other entertainment available, removing electronics, keeping the room dark, and so on.

There are a lot of resources out there for specific things that help promote sleep. Let’s take a few moments and review a few of these protocols on a deeper level.

IMPORTANT: Before I give you these tips, know this: If you are feeling chronically fatigued, reach out and let my team and I know immediately so we can help you rule out any obvious medical issues or dietary deficiencies. It may just be the time to turn to supplements or tweak your day-to-day health regimen – but let’s have that conversation and support you at the highest level possible.

#1. Light from any source tends to promote wakefulness or difficulty falling asleep.

Stop indulging in electronics late in the evening. We need to quiet our mind in the evening, so it can do its job and let us float off into sleep. Modern electronics like TV, computers, and smartphones certainly do not help, beeping and ringing sometimes all night.

On top of the sounds and distraction, our brains have evolved to produce the sleep hormone in response to darkness, allowing us to naturally feel sleepy after sunset, and wake at or near sunrise. The light in our electronic screens greatly disrupts melatonin production.

It is not commonly known, but low melatonin levels may affect gene activation and how genes influence our overall health and add to decreased memory, lower cognitive function, increased mood swings and an overall lack of energy. Avoiding TV right before bedtime, lowering light levels in the house, and avoiding smartphones and computers in bed are simple solutions to adopt immediately. One simple action item is to use an old-fashioned alarm clock rather than have your smartphone on in your bedroom.

#2. The next easy solution is resting or sleeping in your bed in your bedroom.

Falling asleep in front of the TV or on your couch is simply poor sleep hygiene and terrible for your body and your health. And make sure your mattress and pillows are super comfortable and great for your body. An uncomfortable pillow can ruin your night – and your day!

#3. Get out and be in the daylight as soon as possible after you wake up each morning.

Morning sunlight has a bigger effect on sleep than almost any other variable. In the morning, if we get bright light exposure, our brain turns on a timer and says, okay, 14 hours after this is time to sleep, and you’re ready to have a good deep refreshing sleep cycle after you start that whole process. The magic amount seems to be about a half an hour of exposure within an hour of waking. Just being outside, even if it’s overcast or anything, there’s so much more light intensity. (One pitfall is just living in areas or at times of year – or lifestyles – where you’re just not getting up with the daylight. In those cases, it’s really worth having a lightbox. You can get units for very effective ones for $100 price range from Amazon or online.)

What happens when we are – or are NOT – getting enough sleep?

During that necessary period of eight to nine hours of sleep, we drift down toward a state called REM sleep, also known as ‘rapid eye movement’ sleep.

You need to have three to four cycles of REM sleep over that eight to nine hour period in order for your brain to experience a deep and thorough restoration.

You also have other, physiological pathways running at the same time. For example, our bodies also rely on adequate sleep for detoxification. Those of us who take detoxification supplements should be aware of this and take these supplements in the evening to maximize the body’s ability to recycle and clear things at night.

Those of us who don’t get enough sleep may not realize that sleep has a large impact on stress management. In my post on the first P – Peace I discuss how stress, if not properly managed, can allow the stress centers in the midbrain and adrenals to call the shots.

Sleep helps the brain rest and restore itself back to a state of non-stress, which restores executive control to the frontal and prefrontal cortex. Together the frontal and prefrontal cortex form the team you MOST want to be running your show. When you don’t get enough sleep, it messes with the ability of your brain to get into this critical mode of repair and restoration.

In brief, your brain relies on sleep to basically perform a daily tune-up on how the neurological nerve cells work together, similar to tuning up a car for enhanced performance.

I have seen the power of the positive and restorative effects of getting enough quality sleep, both in my patients and in myself. Sleep makes your body more efficient, and more able to manage and relegate stress to its appropriate place. Your immune system is also stronger and more resilient to combat viruses, infections and again, stress.

And of course, when you get enough sleep, you’re less irritable and more relaxed, more joyous and able to problem solve, your brain is brighter, you can think more clearly, and you may even have a higher use of intuition. That has been my personal experience.

Get more sleep and watch your stamina and strength improve too. When you get that precious 8-9 hours of sleep, your muscles will more fully recover from workouts. You will see better gains in interval training, cardio, and strength training – and if you don’t have a movement practice, you’ll be more motivated to START one!

The Sympathetic And Parasympathetic Nervous Systems1

There are two main parts of the autonomic (or automatic) nervous system. Many of us have heard of the fight-or-flight response, which is the stress response. This comes from the sympathetic nervous system, which you can think of as being ‘sympathetic’ to dangerous or stressful situations.

The sympathetic pathway sends an urgent and quick response by increasing heart rate and blood flow, and places the body on high alert. We experience this response as stress.

The second system is the parasympathetic nervous system.

You may have heard of the ‘rest and digest response’ that comes from this system. What many of us don’t consciously know is that your parasympathetic nervous system should be running the show 99% of the time!

Your parasympathetic nervous system reduces heart rate, promotes digestion, and also stimulates the release of melatonin. This system controls all those things that we associate with a good sleep.

The first two Ps —Peace & Pillow—activate the parasympathetic nervous system and turn on our sleep center. This builds over time and is one of the secrets to being healthy and vital.

In conclusion, your body is counting on getting enough sleep to repair, restore, and rejuvenate. It’s like a software program that’s meant to run every night.

It’s not lazy – it’s service. If you are lucky enough to have enough time available to fully rest, you should avail yourself so your cup can spill over and you can be more vital and of greater use to others.

Many people in the world don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted sleep. They may work odd shifts or live in a part of the world that has a lot of disruptive things happening. It’s a blessing to be able to get a good night’s sleep.

A powerful, health-restorative starting point for every good day? A great night’s sleep.

Here’s to you and all you do.

Your friend,

Dr. Rob Downey