Many people in the modern world tend to burn the candle at both ends. They are stressed and try to pack too much into their busy day. Inevitably, the amount and quality of sleep they get decreases as they struggle to meet all of the demands placed upon them.

Sleep is an essential part of our circadian system (pronounced sir-KAY-dee-ann), a roughly 24-hour cycle in which our mind and body go through certain rhythmic patterns. These are influenced both by daily routines and by our environment, such as exposure to light.

Circadian rhythms influence our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important functions. Disrupted circadian rhythms have been linked to various sleep disorders, such as insomnia. They have also been associated with obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is triggered during winter in the Northern Hemisphere due to a lack of sunlight exposure.

The different stages of sleep seem to trigger different pro or anti-inflammatory responses. It also appears that some immune cells, such as the T cells and Killer cells,  are only produced or distributed throughout the body during sleep.  This is important as both these cells are essential in fighting disease.

To give you an idea of how important T cells are, those with HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, have a deficient immune system in which T cells can be decreased leading to serious disease.

In addition, sleep appears to contribute to what is termed the immunologic memory. Your immune system can “remember” its response to certain illnesses like chicken pox, which is why many childhood diseases will only be contracted once.

However, a run-down immune system may develop “memory problems.” This can leave you vulnerable once more to chicken pox in the form of shingles, a particular painful and potentially dangerous manifestation of the disease which shows up as blisters externally and can attack nerve endings and even the eyes.

So what can you do if you’ve been struggling with sleep issues? Practice good sleep hygiene with the follwing tips:

-Set a regular bedtime and maintain it on the weekends.

-Go through a routine before bed, such as brushing your teeth and so on.

-Shower or take a relaxing bath.

-Read a calming book.

-No screen time for 2 hours before bed. If you must use your computer, use blue-light blocking glasses.

-Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Cover small lights and use blackout shades.

-No electronic devices in the bedroom.

-If using your phone as an alarm clock, switch it to airplane mode.

-Limit fluid intake before bed to minimize risk of waking to use the bathroom.

-Don’t use your bedroom for work/business or TV/movies. Keep it sacred.

If you’ve been running yourself ragged, slow down, adjust your priorities and routine, and make time for sleep. See what a difference your new sleep routine can make to reduce chronic pain and improve your overall health.