How do sleep (or a lack of it) and stress (an abundance of it) affect your immune system?

A lot, it turns out, and while that's always important, it's particularly important during this time of COVID 19.

What are the risk factors for contracting COVID 19, and what are the best ways to protect yourself, where sleep and stress are concerned?

To help people be well during this pandemic, Gennev is offering a series of weekly webinars on issues of women's health and how they're impacted by the isolation. If you weren't able to attend, or you wish to hear the information again, below is the podcast of the webinar. Hear Gennev Director of Health Coaching Stasi Kasianchuk's tips for maximizing sleep, minimizing stress, and making sure your immunity "armor" is as strong and resilient as it can be.

Be sure to learn about and register for upcoming webinars on gut health, mental health, nutrition, movement, weight management, and more, and find links to previous webinars.

Access the video of this webinar on sleep, stress, immunity and COVID 19 on YouTube.

Want more from Coach Stasi? Check out her video playlist on YouTube and find ways to keep moving safely, and at home.

Complete transcript:

Coach Stasi Kasianchuk

Well thank you all for joining. My name is Stasi Kasianchuk, and I am the director of health coaching at Gennev. I'm a registered dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist and I do work, Im one of the coaches that works with our clients here at Gennev. So today I am hosting this webinar on sleep, stress and coronavirus or COVID 19. Right now we're offering weekly webinars that are going to be topics related to women's health, supporting you at this time and during this coronavirus pandemic. So hopefully you can take the, the information here, apply it to your life, and then the other piece that you have the opportunity if you're participating live, please feel free to put questions in the chat whether it's on Facebook or on the zoom recording. And we will, I'll make sure to answer those throughout the presentation. So thank you all very much for joining.We'll give people a few more minutes just to log in and get set up before I dive into the information. I'll give you a little bit of information on Gennev in case you're new to Gennev. We are a women's health platform that's done remotely. We offer the health coaching like I mentioned. And all of our coaches are registered dietitian nutritionists. I specifically have a background in exercise physiology. So our coaches are also able to provide exercise information in addition to nutrition. We also provide lifestyle strategies to help you manage things right now during menopause and even pre-menopause, it's really important that we're taking care of our health all throughout our lives and we've seen that women haven't always gotten the support they need. And so we're setting out to change that. So a lot of things I can support women with are sleep and stress, which we're gonna talk about today.Even managing menopause symptoms with different lifestyle tactics that can be really helpful. And looking at how to best fit these strategies into your current life. We also have a telemedicine platform where we have OB GYNs who can support you and gynecological needs. And we also just recently launched primary care accessibility in some states where we can also help you with primary care needs, especially at this time where you don't want to be going to a doctor's office but you still need to take care of your health. We can offer that over over the phone and through video with our telemedicine providers. So keep that in mind, more information on our websites and feel free if you have any questions on that throughout the, the webinar today, I'm happy to take those as well. Want to really make sure that we're supporting you.All right, so our topic today, stress, sleep and COVID 19 and, and really immune function. So I want to just start off with some basics around stress, sleep and immune function and how they connect. You may have a basic idea of this but wanted to give you little bit more of the connection. I think we all know the importance of sleep. Sleep is one of those things that I hear commonly with the clients, I wish I could get more sleep. Oftentimes the women that I'm working with during menopause sleep is disrupted. It's hard to get good sleep during this time. But we know the importance of sleep. We all feel better when we're rested and our bodies actually tell us when we're tired and when we need to get more sleep. The challenge is we don't always listen to that in our society today.Perhaps a silver lining to what we're experiencing right now is that we are being told to slow down and that may provide opportunities for more sleep, which is really important to immune function. Now stress can come in all different forms. It can, there can be good stress. Having a deadline that you're excited about, a project to work on, whether it be work related or otherwise: These are forms of good stress. When stress becomes more chronic or starts to give that feeling of suppression and anxiety or sometimes it feels like a knot in your stomach or a decrease in appetite or youre emotional or perhaps you're more moody or quick to respond to things in ways that you don't feel as normal for you. That's when that chronic stress can take more of a toll on our body. Now, our immune system is very complex.We're not going to go into all the details of that today. That could be several webinars on its own, but it's a very intricate system that is set out to protect us. And really we are on a daily basis, even before coronavirus, we face pathogens and invaders that enter our body in all sorts of ways: through our mouth, through our nose, through our eyes. Those are the common ways but even things on our skin and our immune system is able to fight those things that may be foreign to it and making sure that it's helping to keep us healthy. So whenever there's an invader, the immune system sends out a message that says it's an alarm system for the body. Something's not right. We need to take care of this. We need to remove it. We need to break it down, get it outta here, let's go.So all of the, the immune antibodies, they go and they attack that foreign invader. Oftentimes there's, this is happening all the time and we don't even know it. So we don't get a cold or flu every day, thankfully. But when the immune system just isn't quite able to fight that invader, that's when we notice symptoms. And that's a sign that the immune system is stressed. The immune system is taxed, wasn't quite able to beat that invader before the symptoms started. And the symptoms are really part of an inflammation cascade. So the invader starts to create inflammation in the body, and that's when we may notice those symptoms related. Maybe it's a cough or sneezing. Itchy eyes can be common ones, or in the case, like we're noticing with coronavirus, it's that dry upper respiratory cough. And unfortunately people that might already be immune compromised so their immune system's already stressed are having difficulty breathing and that's where the complications are coming in.So we want our immune system to be as strong as possible all the time, but especially now and when we aren't getting enough sleep because sleep is the time that our body is repairing and it's really the time that the body can fully rest. And if when we're not getting enough sleep and the recommendations are about seven to nine hours of restful sleep, then that can be an additional stress on the body, can start to feel like I just didn't have a quite enough, the immune system starts to feel like I just didn't have quite enough time to recover last night. And then you go into the next day under-recovered from the day to day stress that happened before. And if you have something that's invading you, whether it be a virus or a pathogen of some sort, bacteria, the immune system may not be as strong to fight that.Now, if you have a poor night's sleep every now and then, chances are the body can compensate. Body has mechanisms to be able to work through times when there isnt, you know, when there might be some things that are off. So if it's one day here or there . probably going to be okay. We get concerned is when sleep is poor, whether it's poor quality or less than that, seven to nine hours on a consistent basis, maybe over months. I work with some clients, unfortunately over years they've had poor sleep. And they do notice the impacts on, they're often sick more often. They don't have the energy, they don't have the stamina to do the things they used to and to really show up to the day like they'd like to. So we know that sleep could impact that. And part of that can place additional stress on the immune system and when you want your immune system showing up for you right now, getting that optimal sleep is really important.We're going to talk about some strategies down the line, but I wanted to just go next into stress. So I mentioned that stress can be good and bad. Eustress or distress, so eustress is that positive stress, maybe that excitement, that anticipation of doing something new or you know, celebrating with friends, these getting to see someone you haven't seen in awhile. These are all forms of good stress, stress that's good for us. Exercise is actually a form of good stress as well. It places a stress on the body, but how the body responds actually helps to strengthen the basically the, the stress response and the resiliency of the body. Now on the other hand, this negative stress is going to be things that are more chronic longterm. Whether it's work stress that's really negative or if it's interactions with coworkers or colleagues or family, friends that aren't, aren't feeling good for you.And again, you typically, we notice that we have a pit in our stomach. There's something in our demeanor. Maybe our response tends to be more short than we typically would be. These are all signs of distress or stress that's not helpful for our health and our wellness. And again, if this type of stress, this type of stress is normal to happen on occasion. What we want is to have mechanisms and strategies to manage our response to the stress so that the stress load doesn't become chronic. It's that chronic load that again adds additional stress to our body and can compromise our immune system because the immune system's connected to all the things we're working on. So if we're constantly stressed or anxious about things, it could impact our sleep. So keep us up at night and then we're missing out on the sleep to support the immune system.And that additional stress just gives, takes away from the immune system. So the immune system is not ready to fight like we want it to. We want it to be a full shield of armor as we walk into our day, even if we're just staying in our house. But certainly right now if we're walking around outside those are the types of things that we want to make sure our immune system is showing up for us 100%.So that's a little bit of background on the connection of sleep, stress, immune function, and really we want that immune system to be as strong as possible right now where we know that COVID 19 is out there. And we can't see it. So we want that armor to protect us. I'm going to take a little pause to see if there's any questions related to some of those basics in terms of the connections between sleep stress and immune function.Anything out there from our viewers that you'd like more information on? Next, we'll be going into some strategies to help you. So those are coming. Okay. So question from one of our viewers, what do you think about OTC sleep aides? So over the counter sleep aides? Great question. So there are those out there. You know, things like Tylenol PM or Aleve. There are some that have that, that can have that drowsiness effect and these especially if you're taking them because your sleep is being disrupted due to pain, then using these as a temporary option maybe OK to help decrease some of that inflammation temporarily to allow you to get some sleep until that inflammation heals. Now that it should not be a longterm approach. I this is, this is more of a bandaid and what they approach the I like to use with my clients and that we do with all of the support we provided at Gennev is a more holistic approach.So we want to get to the cause and provide you with lifestyle strategies or supportive supplements if necessary that treat the cause versus just the symptoms. And so over the counter sleep aides are really just treating the symptoms and they actually in a lot of cases aren't providing the quality of sleep. You may feel like you're getting more sleep because your, you may feel more drowsy. They can help you to go to sleep faster. But oftentimes and I have clients that report that when they've taken these before, they wake up and they're more tired or they don't feel like they're getting restful sleep. The quality of sleep is also important. So I wouldn't recommend using these longterm if you're working with a physician and they've recommended them to you for a short term basis, that may be appropriate, especially if you're dealing with inflammation and pain.But really incorporating more lifestyle strategies like we're going to talk about can get you further and support your health in a better way.All right, so next question. What if I'm not sleeping because of stress? And this is so common right now. I would say, and interestingly, the clients I've talked to this week, it's been a theme. People are just feeling more tired. And I think it's important to recognize that even if you are confined to your house, maybe are not moving as much as you used to. Maybe your routine seems seems in theory to have slowed down. The information that we're getting from all of the sources can still stress the nervous system. We may not even realizeit, it doesn't feel like our heart rate is racing. It doesnt feel and we might be getting some things passively, but know that that can stress your central nervous system and can require energy for your body to process that and you may feel more fatigued. At the same time if that stress is keeping you up at night and youre staying awake, that can certainly be a problem.What I recommend for my clients when it comes to that is starting off with deep breathing. That can be a very simple exercise where you're breathing in heavily through your nose, big, deep breaths, typically holding to about the count of four and then exhaling through, out your mouth and repeating this several times and really trying to focus on your breath. So very simple, doesn't require any devices, it doesn't require any equipment. And the power of our breath is really important to supporting our immune function as well as with stress management. Now I do have some clients that say I can't focus on my breath, I have too many things going in my head; that's just not realistic. So in those cases, guide a guided meditation whether it be through an app. Headspace right now is offering free Headspace subscriptions to health care workers.So if you're a healthcare worker, especially if you're on the front lines, but even if you're not and you're taking care of the health of other people right now, take advantage of that offer. And they do offer, if you're not a health care worker, Headspace does offer free initial trial and there's a lot of different guided meditations around sleep specifically that can be helpful. Calm is another app as well as Insight Timer. These are great ones that I've tried and my clients have tried with success in terms of helping to turn off the brain, provide some more calming meditation based music and being able to shift and to support your sleep at night. The other thing that you can also do is simply just meditation music channels on Pandora or Spotify. You can put in spa meditation, music. They usually have some soothing nature songs or some great options as well.Just keep in mind if you have the free version, you will have advertisements. So those may wake you up. But yes, those are some options that have been successful for my clients and really just helps to calm the brain and the body with that way. And the advantage of just putting the earbuds in limiting the screen time you want to not use you want to avoid as much blue light as possible during the night because that can also disrupt your sleep. Great question.So another question. My stress levels are up because I'm busy cooking meals, educating my kids, trying to work at home. Any suggestions for quick ways to relieve my stress amid the chaos? There is chaos out there. It's been interesting to see both with my clients in my own life. I'm trying, hearing from my coworkers and all of us are making our way, and this is certainly unprecedented times.There isn't a rule book for this. Perhaps we're creating the rule book. Hopefully we don't have this happen again. But you know, history has a funny way of, of repeating itself in different forms. But we are all essentially on the front lines in terms of navigating these new routines for us. And that's really what I recommend starting with how can you develop a routine, make it realistic and give yourself credit for all that you're doing right now because there isn't a rule book. We know that everyone is trying to do their best and giving yourself credit that you are doing the best you can is a great first step in recognizing that you're not giving up on this, but it is hard and you're trying to manage as best as possible. Now that being said, when it comes to things like cooking, being okay with easy meals and perhaps that's ordering takeout from a local restaurant that needs your support, that can be a great way to alleviate the cooking, have that meal, go pick it up, or if they're doing delivery bring that home and then take that off your plate of having to deliver a meal.If you can do it once a week, twice a week, that could be a great way to relieve some of that stress around meal preparation. The other thing is looking at meal delivery services. There's a lot of them out there that really offer meals that are healthy, a variety of different nutrients. Whole foods. The ones that come to mind that I recommend to clients are Sun Basket and Thistle. And then, and even Hello Fresh. Those ones tend to have a good variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins that can be really supportive of adequate nutrition during this stressful time. And nutrition's also something that can support your immune system. So where when the stress hits I do you encourage you, what is something that you can make simpler, do simpler and take something off your plate. So those are some ways that my clients have been finding some success in that.Even delivery options for groceries or a lot of the major grocery stores are delivering, if you have Amazon Fresh near you, that's an option. I know in some areas wher


Shannon Perry

April 1, 2020
Director of Programming & Media

Medically Reviewed By

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