All About Autoimmune Diseases, Part 2: Diet and Sleep
In our intro to autoimmune diseases, we talked about what autoimmune diseases are, what causes them, and why it’s so important to treat their symptoms effectively. Today, we’ll dive into small changes you can make to help control your overactive immune response and reduce pain and inflammation. Let’s start with two of our favorite topics: eating and sleeping.
Diet and autoimmune disease
Yes, what you eat can reduce the symptoms of autoimmune disease. First, remove any inflammatory triggers that might be worsening your symptoms. By doing so, you’ll not only reduce inflammation, but you’ll also promote weight loss – an added bonus, since excess weight has been linked to inflammation.
Start by removing gluten, dairy, sugar, processed food and alcohol strictly for a short period of time. Instead, focus on nourishing whole foods high in antioxidants and healthy fats, like berries, leafy dark vegetables, beet juice powder, wild caught fight, and olives.
Next, reach for natural prebiotic fibers and fermented foods to promote gut healing. Consider a paleo diet (only eating foods a caveman would have eaten) or an anti-inflammatory diet . Real, whole foods will “heal and seal” any leaky gut you’ve developed. The more inflammation you’re experiencing, the more important this becomes.
Finally, address any underlying metabolic health dysfunction that can affect inflammation. For example, if a blood sugar test shows insulin resistance, someone may consider time restricted feeding (TRF) and limiting their eating to a certain time frame every day, like when it’s light outside. Of course, work with your doctor first to decide if it’s right for you; TRF might not be recommended if you’re underweight.
Best sleep practices for autoimmune disease
Sleep is prime time for your body to heal itself, so optimizing your sleep will help strengthen your immune system and promote gut health healing. First, optimize your circadian rhythm so that you’re energized during the day and sleepy at night. Seek out natural sunlight first thing in the morning, and try to work out before lunch. After sunset, keep your room dark and limit blue light by using blue light blockers, amber bulbs and dimmers, or candles for light that won’t disrupt your sleep cycle.
If you’re really trying to improve your sleep, take the TV out of your bedroom. That has the double-sided benefit of limiting blue light and making it easier for you to fall asleep quickly without the distraction of a new episode.
Next, time your eating and drinking correctly. Avoid food for four hours before sleep to let your body fully digest. Limit your caffeine intake to only before noon, and consider abstaining from alcohol; not only does alcohol lead to restless sleep, it can also lead to chronic inflammation. Consider adding a magnesium bisglycinate supplement to relax your muscles and promote sleepiness.
Finally, build a nighttime routine to help your body wind down. This is an especially effective practice if racing thoughts keep you awake. Your nighttime ritual can be anything that feels soothing to you, like a mug of adaptogenic tea, a hot bath with lavender essential oils, and calming music. Try breathwork that focuses on slowing your exhale, which decreases your sympathetic state and lowers your heart rate.
Of course, it’s difficult to objectively track your sleep habits and understand what leads to a night of deep sleep versus a night of tossing and turning. A wearable like Oura or WHOOP might help you connect your daytime behaviors to your sleep quality.
While these suggested changes are helpful for the general population, a precision healthcare team can identify interventions that will be most effective for your unique needs. Click here to browse our precision healthcare plans.