Coronavirus has got us all feeling stressed out and panic-y. We’re at home, consuming as many immunity-boosters as possible, avoiding anyone who’s not in our household, trying to hang on to some sort of morning routine, and asking: what else can we do? Our founder, Kirsten, has one suggestion that not only strengthens our immune systems but also helps manage stress and improve sleep. The best part: it’s free, easy, and you can start doing it right away.
Watch her video below for details (or scroll down for the transcript):
With Coronavirus spreading all around us, you might be wondering what you can do to keep yourself safe – what you can do to improve your immune system and keep your body strong and resistant.
Did you know that sleep is one of the most important factors for the strength of your immune system? Your immune system requires a great deal of energy to mount a response against pathogens and injuries. When we sleep, our bodies and brains are restored, our cortisol levels (ie: stress hormone levels) go down, and our brains filter out some of the toxins that have accumulated during the day. When we don’t sleep (or don’t sleep enough or don’t get quality sleep) your brain doesn’t get to filter out as many toxins as it should, and that can lead to inflammation and a reduced level of resistance.1-3 Studies have shown that our bodies are more vulnerable and we’re more likely to catch a virus when we’re sleep deprived.4-5
Even before the Coronavirus panic started, most of us had a ton of stress in our lives – stress from work, our personal lives, too much exercise, the wrong kinds of foods, etc. Stress, in its many forms, can disrupt both our sleep and our immune systems, which leads to a reduced immunologic response to pathogens. We don’t want that ever. But we especially don’t want that now that we’re faced with a pandemic.
So, what are you supposed to do? Should you take a sleeping pill? More melatonin? Those things can help in the short term but the reality is that the restoring power of sleep is lessened when you take something to help you fall asleep. The best sleep for your immune system is a good quality deep sleep, sans sleeping pills and extra melatonin.
What we have to do is remember to keep diagnosing back. So, ask yourself, why are you having trouble sleeping? Is it because there's a f*ck ton of stress going on and it's just too much? Is it because you're consuming too much caffeine in the late afternoon? Is it because you're drinking too much alcohol? (While alcohol does a great job of relaxing us for the short term, it can also really disrupt your immune system, which won't be helpful in the long term.)
Right now, many of us are losing sleep over Coronavirus (myself included). If that, or another stress-related event or train of thought, is what’s disrupting your sleep, I’d encourage you to try four-seven-eight breathing exercises. Don’t just do it when you’re trying to fall asleep. Do a few cycles in the morning, a few cycles in the afternoon, a few cycles when you go to bed, and, if you wake up in the middle of the night, do a few cycles again then.
It's a simple mindfulness exercise that’s super effective when it comes to interrupting the stress-snowballing overthinking patterns that disrupt your sleep and your immune system.6
I run through how to do it in the video (starting at 00:02:45) and there’s a great video of Andrew Weil demonstrating it here. But it’s so easy that you can probably get the gist with written instructions alone: Over the course of 4 seconds, inhale through your nose while counting to 4 (as in: 1,2,3,4). Then you hold the breath for 7 seconds (counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7) and then you exhale through your mouth over the course of eight seconds (counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8). Once you’re done with your exhale, you go back to the 4-second inhale and repeat the whole thing a few times, until you feel like you’ve really calmed down (or have fallen back to sleep).
The combination disrupting your regular breathing and the counting, which is incredibly boring, is what makes this work. If you’re compulsively checking the news or refreshing the New York Times website for the latest on Coronavirus, this will give your mind a break and help you regulate your thoughts quite a bit.
If you can do this throughout the day, you will start to notice a really profound impact – even if you just do a few cycles a day, even if you just do it when you notice you’re feeling keyed up and nervous.
It's way more effective than just taking some deep breaths. Andrew Weil has gone so far as to say that “for anxiety, [4-7-8 breathing] is far and away the best method I’ve ever found. It makes benzodiazepines look very pathetic by comparison. And I’ve seen even the most extreme cases of panic disorder respond to this breathing technique once people practiced it enough.”
So, I encourage you to give that a try. Some other things you can do to take care of yourself: take this opportunity to talk to more people (even if it has to be video chatting; call your friends and family members); go for walks outside; clean your house (your environment impacts you and cleaning up can make you feel a sense of control); cook more food; do all of your favorite self care things– managing stress will help your immune system.
I’m thinking about all of you and keeping in my thoughts every single day. Take care, stay safe, and please reach out to us if there's anything we can do.
- Lange T, et al. Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system, 2010
- Haus E. Chronobiology in the endocrine system, 2007
- Straub RH, et al. Energy regulation and neuroendocrine–immune control in chronic inflammatory diseases, 2010
- Vgontzas AN, et al. Insomnia with objective short sleep duration: the most biologically severe phenotype of the disorder, 2013
- Cohen S, et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold, 2009
- Creswell JD, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial, 201
- “The Tim Ferriss Show” Episode #350, Dr. Andrew Weil — Optimal Health, Plant Medicine, and More, 2018. https://tim.blog/2018/12/06/dr-andrew-weil/