Sleep and the Autoimmune Protocol, Part 2

Sleep and the Autoimmune Protocol

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The Autoimmune Protocol goes way beyond just food. In these next few posts we’ll dive into the other aspects of the protocol and discuss how it all comes together to create an entire healing lifestyle. If you’re just addressing the food you’re eating, that’s a great first step, but your healing will eventually stall out. First up? Sleep.

Why is sleep important? There are a myriad of reasons. Sleep is a necessary process for the body to restore itself. During sleep, the body is recharging, restoring and recovering from daily activity. The gut is relaxed, inflammation is calmed and hormones are stabilized.

Sleep Deprivation

So what happens when you don’t sleep? Sleep deprivation can cause problems ranging from mild to severe, from yawning to heart issues, and many in between. Recently there have been studies that have shown just how important it is to get enough sleep and what will occur in your body when you don’t get enough, even for one night! These sleep deprivation effects include type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disease.

Many people squeak by on 6 or less hours of sleep a night and think that is enough. However, 6 seems to be the magic number, when you cross the line from the ‘healthy range’, into the ‘deprivation range’. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night increases your risk of most ailments, including Type 2 Diabetes. This is due to a number of factors. When you sleep less than 6 hours, your level of glucose tolerance decreases, you can become insulin resistant and this can happen within just a few days of sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation definitely puts an individual at risk for autoimmune disease. Even just mild insomnia will increase risk of autoimmune disease by around 50%. Specifically, when dealing with sleep deprivation, the risk of rheumatoid arthritis goes up by 45%, Sjogrens syndrome by 51%, ankylosing spondylitis by 53% and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) goes up by a whopping 81%. Those are pretty incredible statistics.  One study discussed findings that stated when the sleep cycle is disrupted, there is an increase in T cells in the body. T cells are immune cells, and are implicated in many autoimmune disorders. When there are too many T cells, the immune system becomes overactive and starts causing problems, like autoimmune disease.

Ways to Improve Sleep

“Just get more sleep” isn’t as easy as it sounds, however. Various symptoms, stress and depression can all impact quality and quantity of sleep. Finding ways to control the symptoms that disrupt our sleep is key in improving quality of sleep and therefore quality of life. Here are some tips to improve your sleep:

  • Create a Ritual: Having a routine you do before bed helps signal to your body it’s time for rest. Read a book, take a bath or taking a leisure walk with your significant other. Do something that is relaxing to you and that prepares your body for sleep.
  • No tech right before bed: I struggle with this one still, but not looking at technology several hours prior to bedtime can help your brain and eyes shut down and get ready for sleep. Yes, there are blue blocking glasses for the blue light that devices emit, but your brain is still being stimulated by the stories you’re reading. Consider trading in your phone for a book instead!
  • Blue Light: Speaking of blue light, get some blue light blocking glasses, use F.lux on your computer or night shift on your phone. Blue light is what messes with your circadian rhythms and throws them off. So limiting your exposure several hours before bed can be very helpful. (I’ve found this to be VERY helpful, I love my blue blocking glasses!)
  • Pay attention to the environmentIs your bedroom hot and sunny? Or is it dark and cool? These things make a huge difference when you’re trying to sleep well! Light blocking curtains, an AC or Fan might make all the difference in the world.
  • Know your triggers: Drinking caffeine or eating sugar too late in the day can cause trouble when trying to fall asleep. For some people exercising too late a night can be troublesome as well. Knowing what works and doesn’t work for you is essential to getting to sleep quickly.
  • Use the smelly stuff: Scents of lavender and vanilla are calming to the body. Using an essential oil blend around bedtime can be helpful as well.

My Sleep Experience

I’ve been having trouble with sleep for years, it seems almost since I’ve been diagnosed I’ve been struggling to regain a sleep routine. However, after some diligent work and patience, I seem to be turning a corner. I consistently use an essential oil blend on my pillow which is quite nice, I take magnesium at night and I’ve been wearing my blue blockers consistently, which I think has made the biggest difference. I’m still waking up a few times, but I’m able to get back to sleep much faster.

What is your sleep experience? Do you do any of these things now? Have you tried any different ones? Let me know!