Sleep & Immunity: Role of Yoga during Pandemic

Dr Ishwar V. Basavaraddi

Sleeping is one of the best-known methods of Healing. Sleep, an essential function, plays a primary role in bringing about optimal health and well-being of all living beings. It salves the mind, restores the body, and bolsters nearly every system in the body, henceforth, working as a mileage factor that boosts our immunity.

Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, amidst it’s November initiative ‘Yoga Nidra’ for promotion of immunity, organised the first webinar of the month on the topic “Sleep & Immunity: Role of Yoga during Pandemic.” The webinar was hosted by Dr Vandana Singh with Dr I V Basavaraddi, Director, MDNIY; Taiyab Alam, Communication and Documentation Officer and other members of the institute as panellists.

The webinar began with Director MDNIY giving his introductory remarks, introducing the Guest Speaker of the evening, Dr PN Ravindra (MD, PhD) Associate Professor, Centre for Consciousness Studies, Department of Neurophysiology, NIMHANS, Bangalore. Dr Ravindra is a Physiologist with a special interest in neurophysiology, sleep and Yoga.

Dr Basavaraddi introduced the topic by talking about the necessity of sleep and how adequate sleep helps to reset the metabolism, in restructuring brain network, modulation of immunity, learning and memory, modulation of the hormonal system and much more, thereby, empowering psychologically an individual to face the challenges.

He further ventured onto various stages of sleep that affect our bodies differently wherein a Good sleep is endowed with light sleep, deep sleep and dream sleep stages which bring about changes in hormonal profile like decrease in cortisol, increases in growth hormone etc. These hormonal profiles are known to have a cross-talk with the immune system and strengthen it. Therefore, sleep empowers immunity and facilitates healing as well. However, stress, disease conditions, erratic sleep timings, a lifestyle that is misaligned to a circadian rhythm may bring about alterations in sleep and might reduce immunity.

Dr PN Ravindra deliberated on the essentiality of sleep and immunity to lead a happy life and how they determine a healthy disease-free lifestyle of an individual. He refers to sleep as an “essential function” in the absence of which one would experience detrimental effects on health and diseases induced by this can even possibly lead to death.

Sleep is a universal phenomenon of the animal kingdom wherein it has a great many psycho-social impacts on basic survivals. Dr Ravindra talked about the ‘Duration of sleep” which varies from animals to humans and person to person. For a human being the average duration of sleep is believed to be 6-8 hours, but currently, the narrative has evolved from duration of sleep to Optimal or Adequate Sleep which is not a universal phenomenon and is very person-specific. An adequate amount of sleep ideally rejuvenates a person, leaving them fresh and active for their daily activities, it can even be 4-3 hours for an individual.

Therefore, it is up to every individual to judge their own adequate sleep pattern, which is subjected to changes that can vary depending on individual lifestyle.

He further states that sleep can be understood as a ‘Complex Behavioural State’ essential to maintain physical, emotional and mental well-being. Sleep is produced as a result of the certain complicated interconnection of various systems in our body. It can be Neural, Endocrine, Homeostatic and Circadian regulation, or some psychological aspects.

Image Source: PPT used in the Webinar

As per the behavioural definition of sleep, it is a reversible behavioural state of perceptual disengagement from and unresponsiveness to the environment depending on four criteria:

  • Reduced motor activity
  • Reduced responses to stimulation 
  • Stereotypic postures in human; and
  • Relatively easy reversibility, in the absence of which a person could be in a comatose state.

Dr Ravinder then went on to explain how Homeostatic Sleep Drive and Circadian Rhythm play an important role in our Wake and Sleep Behaviours. As our day progresses our homoeostatic drive for sleep keeps increasing which means the activities we undertake throughout a day determine the Sleep Pressure. Building up homeostatic sleep pressure is very important for our nocturnal sleep. The Circadian Alteration is the variations in our physiological and psychological aspects that happen because of sunrise and sunset. The circadian variation happens as our Wake Propensity which is relatively higher in daytime (mostly) comes down by the sunset as an important hormone of our body, the Melatonin, increases inducing sleep.

A proper Sleep Architecture represents an adequate sleep wherein a sleep episode begins with a short period of NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement) stage 1 progressing through stage 2, followed by stages 3 and 4 and finally to REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Although, individuals do not remain in REM sleep for a majority part of the night, rather, cycle between stages of NREM and REM throughout the night. Dr Ravinder explains how Ontology of Human Sleep changes from polycyclic sleep pattern of new-born to Monocyclic adult pattern.

There are various reasons that can rupture the above mentioned sleep patterns leading to Sleep Deprivation which in turn reduces our immunity, concentration, motivation, motor skills, and makes us more irritable with mood alterations and lapses in attention. Moreover, a faulty lifestyle can lead to accumulation of toxins in our body, which when propelled by sleep deprivation will lead to a depressive mood and directly affect our Immunity.

Three factors that account for a good sleep are: 

  • Increased melatonin levels
  • Decreased cortisol level; and 
  • A dip in the core body temperature inside the body. 

Sleep has a direct relationship with maintaining the upkeep of our immunity wherein the crucial process of immunological synapse (immunity developing memory against pathogens) takes place while we are asleep.

Sleeping disorders like Insomnia, Sleep apnea, etc. have detrimental effects on our body rendering us less productive for our day-today activities.

Dr Ravindra here talked about the Sleep Hygiene that one can maintain by practicing and following Yoga. Fixing a sleep schedule is very important in order to create a routine. One should never go to bed with a heavy or stressed state of mind, in this case, Yogic practices like Pranayama – Brahmari/Nadi Shodhana (deep breathing exercises), Dhyana (meditation), and the Savasana can help you overcome restlessness and ‘let go’ before going to bed. This can be done 40 minutes before bedtime.

He also mentioned various Do’s and Don’ts that can help an individual regularize a healthy sleep:

Image Source: PPT used in the Webinar

Dr Ravindra made special appeal that everyone should manage their stress especially during the times of this pandemic wherein we are more prone to de-tracking from our regular sleep schedules and falling into detrimental sleep deprivation habits.

Webinar Interactions (Q/A)

Image Source: The Webinar

In an interactive conclusion, Dr PN Ravindra answered many questions put forth by the panellits enlisting ways in which one can cure Sleep Deprivation by identifying reasons behind it and then bringing appropriate lifestyle changes. 

Dr Basavaraddi interacted with the guest speaker asking him two insightful questions. Firstly, he asked “How we can optimally make use of different Praharas – the ancient time measure unit or subdivision of the day, to correct the routines of getting into good sleep?” To which Dr Ravindra suggested “following a sleep structure with due Sleep Hygiene before preparing to get into sleep as per the Praharas”.

Director MDNIY in his second question asked “If we have any evidence based Yogic practices that are known to induce a good sleep?” Dr Ravindra iterated that ‘not much work’ has been done to evidently understand the beneficial aspects of Yoga practices that can bring good amounts of sleep, but surely there is an understanding of Yoga Nidra that can induce a rather good sleep. Moreover, sleep is a result of our activities during the wake times, therefore one should mind their activities throughout the day. But in case of sleep disorders, definitely certain Yoga practices would reduce the stress and mend psycho-social problems related to such diseases.

He specifically stressed on the inculcation of Yogic practices to ensure a healthy night regimen, i.e, understanding the parallels and importance of different Praharas as per our traditions. 

Following Yoga principles and practices in our daily lifestyle brings about structural changes in brain circuits and hormonal profiles which can help to improve deep sleep (sleep quality) and subsequently plays an important role in boosting the immune system.

{WATCH } Webinar: “Sleep and Immunity: Role of Yoga During Pandemic”

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