A University of Washington School of Medicine specialist says our attention to sleep, or lack of it, is critical for overall health, particularly our immune system.

“It affects the cardiovascular system. It affects glucose control. It affects our memory, our learning, our behavior, our emotions,” says Lourdes DelRosso, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics and sleep medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a release. “It is very, very important to be aware of having a good sleep schedule, regular sleep routine, but also to be able to identify and recognize a sleep disorder.”

Even if you take all the appropriate steps to set yourself up for good sleep, but still awake in the middle of the night, you may benefit from a formal evaluation, she said. Getting a good night’s rest is especially important, given the COVID-19 pandemic. Sleep even can amplify the benefit of getting a vaccine, she says.

“There was a study with influenza vaccine that showed that people who were sleep-deprived the week before did not produce enough antibodies after the vaccine, compared to the people that slept well,” she says. “So sleep is very important, even around your vaccination time, for your immune system to produce the right amount of immune response.”

Deep sleep helps your body restore its immune system, she says. Sleep also helps lower your blood pressure and heart rate, both of which decline during slumber and reset a baseline for the next day. Without a good night’s sleep, she says, “we start the day with higher blood pressure levels.”

The same phenomena occurs with glucose levels: Good sleep helps control blood sugar, and disrupted sleep can result in a greater chance of insulin resistance or diabetes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major sleep havoc for some.

“What we’re seeing lately is sometimes because of the length of the pandemic and the isolation, stress has kicked in and we’re seeing interrupted sleep,” DelRosso says. For the near future, we will still be dealing with COVID, and the associated stress. DelRosso has these suggestions:

  • Develop a sleep routine that incorporates relaxing activities.
  • Turn off the electronics at least an hour before lights-out time. If you must read your e-book, make sure it has a blue-light screen or filter to prevent blue light from signaling your body to stay awake. DelRosso recommends listening to books or reading a hard-copy, the old-fashioned way.
  • Avoid caffeine before bedtime, and try to limit caffeine intake to before noon.
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bedtime.
  • No sugary snacks right before bedtime, and don’t drink a lot of liquids. Otherwise you’ll be getting up in the middle of the night.
  • If you do awaken in the wee hours, do not check your phone or email. Close your eyes.

“We have found out that sleep is not just the absence of wakefulness and not just a period where we are quiet,” DelRosso says. “Your brain is cleaning out substances which have accumulated during the day, and lowering your stress level, blood pressure, and heart rate.”