Contemporary and Social Issues Health

Lockdown…Don’t Lose Your Sleep Over it!

An Interview with Bill Fish from the Sleep Foundation – “While it may be tempting to stay up watching Netflix until 2 am and wake up at 10, your body simply isn’t accustomed to this.”  

In a desperate bid to find a vaccine for the covid-19, many have turned their focus on alternative cures and remedies to boost their immune systems to help combat the deadly virus. From exercise to diet, to trying varying tinctures and tonics, our attention has perhaps never been more focused on how to help bolster the immune system given the current circumstances. However, one simple and natural remedy that is often overlooked and comprised is ensuring one has adequate rest and sleep. It is said that we spend up to almost third of our lives asleep, but at a time when the daily routines of many have been greatly impacted owing to the strict measures of lockdown and social distancing, and a sudden surge in online streaming, our sleep has become even more important. 

Whilst granting invaluable guidance in response to the recent pandemic, the current Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), particularly mentioned the significance of sleep and its impact on the immune system to help fight illnesses and diseases. In light of His Holiness’ guidance, The Review of Religions spoke to Bill Fish, who is the Managing Editor of Sleep Foundation and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. Fish helps nearly two million people a month in improving their sleep regimen and we were immensely grateful that he could share some of his expertise and insights on the subject of sleep. Fish was interviewed by Shahzad Ahmad, Associate Editor ofThe Review of Religions.

S: Thank you Bill for taking time out to answer these questions. In light of the recent epidemic, many people have turned towards various remedies to improve one’s immune system. What role does sleep play in this and how important is it?

B: Sleep is considered the third pillar of wellness to go along with diet and exercise.  If we aren’t getting the necessary amount of sleep, we are aren’t at our best and our body tends to fight for more sleep which can result in lowering our immune system. Simply sleeping more isn’t going to stop you from getting sick, but getting the proper amount does help your immune system. Without enough sleep, your body produces less cytokines.  This is a protein that goes after inflammation and infection, performing an immune response.  If you aren’t getting enough sleep your body won’t produce the optimum about of cytokines to fight infection.

S: That is very interesting. What is the ideal amount of sleep for an adult and child?

B: The National Sleep Foundation states that each adult should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep on a nightly basis.  That two hour difference is based on the person’s genetic makeup, but all adults should be getting no less than seven hours of sleep and no more than nine.  The amount of sleep needed by a child varies greatly based on their age.  A new-born can sleep upwards of 16 hours a day.  When a baby is between four months and a year, they should sleep around 14 hours per day.  Children that are between one and three should sleep around 13 hours a day, while children between the ages of three and six should sleep between 11-12 hours a day.  Children between 7-12 can reduce sleep to 10-11 hours day, and 13-18 year olds need at least eight hours of sleep per night.

S: Following on, as many parts of the world go into lockdown, there has been a sudden surge of online streaming such as Netflix, etc. This of course could mean people staying up till late into the night. However, how important is it to have a regular pattern in sleeping and waking up in the morning?

B: In this unprecedented time, our lives have been turned upside down to some extent, which is a huge detriment to our sleep.  Each of our bodies are equipped with a 24 hour internal body clock known as our Circadian Rhythm.  This tells our body when to wake and when to rest.  Our bodies naturally crave routine and consistency.  With people either out of work, or working from home, our normal schedules are in disarray.  To get back on track, we need to set up a sleep schedule.  While it may be tempting to stay up watching Netflix until 2 am, and wake up at 10, your body simply isn’t accustomed to this.  We want to stay as healthy as possible, and adhering to a sleep schedule is a great way to do so.  Get to bed within a set 30 minute period each night.  Wake up within another 30 minute period while getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.  We have to be vigilant about our health, and getting back to a sense of normalcy with a set schedule is a great way to make this happen. 

S: How can one improve the quality of their sleep and what practices can one adopt to ensure they have an effective sleep?  

While people have put more emphasis on sleep as part of their health routine over the last five years, far too much emphasis has been put on the quantity of sleep, and the qualitycan be neglected.  The best piece of advice that I can give to improve your quality of sleep is to rethink your bedroom.  Turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary of sorts. Take a step back and examine everything in the room, and see if it is conducive to sleep.  Below are some great steps:

  • Remove all clutter from the room and close closet doors.  Laundry, suitcases, or even art projects cause the mind to race, simplify what is in your bedroom
  • Charge your phone in another room.  The blue light emitting from a phone counteracts the brain’s production of melatonin, and will hinder your ability to get to sleep
  • No screens within 45 minutes of going to sleep, allow your brain to come down and prepare for sleep
  • Keep your room cool, and as dark as possible.  Humans are meant to rise during the day and rest at night, we are accustomed to darkness when we sleep
  • Invest in a white noise machine.  This simple device can mask sounds such as your neighbour’s dog howling at the moon at midnight, or the garbage truck coming up your street at 5:30.  Normally these sounds can wake you from a deep sleep, but a white noise machine can help you to stay in a deep sleep.

S: Many people naturally feel tried and sleepy at some point during the day, how effective is an afternoon nap or a power nap?

B: The effectiveness of naps vary person to person, but we would highly recommend not sleeping longer than 30 minutes.  A nap that has a duration longer than 30 minutes will cause your body to believe that it is in for a full night of rest and as you go through the stages of sleep and wake up 90 minutes later, you may feel more tired than you were prior to the nap.

S: How much impact does one’s diet have on the quality of sleep?

B: We don’t recommend eating just before you go to bed as it is difficult to get the proper rest while your body is digesting food.  However, there are goods that can help you get to sleep more quickly, but shouldn’t be eaten within two hours of going to sleep.  The foods that would help the most contain the chemical that many of us associate with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, Tryptophan.  Many dairy items fit this bill, such as milk, cheese and eggs.  Nuts, beans and fish also contain tryptophan.

We would strongly suggest staying away from spicy or acidic foods before you go to sleep, as it could result in an episode of acid reflux.  Our bodies are creatures of habit and many people have a small glass of warm milk prior to going to sleep.  That milk along with the ritual, must just be the perfect catalyst for a great night of sleep.

S: In many faiths, people wake up in the early hours of the morning to offer worship. What measures can they adopt to ensure they are not deprived of sleep? 

While it is recommended to get between seven and nine hours of continuous hours of sleep, that isn’t a necessity.  Whether it is due to a job, child care or faith based, some sleepers simply aren’t able to sleep straight through the allotted time.  To feel your best, it is recommended to keep that schedule as tight as possible.  If you are waking up for prayer, get to bed at the same time each night, wake for the necessary prayer and get back to bed and wake at the same time once again.  Keeping that consistency is of the utmost importance.  While sleep cycles tend to last roughly 90 minutes on average, they vary constantly, so it isn’t possible to calculate exactly what time to wake up mid sleep to leave yourself feeling well.  That said, our bodies and mind can be trained with time, so stick to your plan and you can get through a non-ideal sleeping situation.

S: Thank you very much for providing these very insightful answers to this key topic. Thank you!