By Deepak Chopra, ™ MD
Right now the push to control the latest surges in Covid have focused on three things that have gained around-the-clock publicity: masks, distancing, and vaccines. Relying on them has given people hope in the face of the pandemic. But there are sources of hope, including a new one just added to the mix, that everyone should know about.
These sources of hope are based on an aspect of daily life that is ordinary and at the same time extremely complex and mysterious. Every day your body goes through a healing cycle. This cycle is the product of billions of years of evolution, setting in place many cycles, clocks, feedback loops, and chemical messaging. But the upshot is a total reset of the mind-body system every day. Anything that has gone out of balance is reset, and all the parts of the system once again mesh as they were designed to.
Your lifestyle either supports the healing cycle or hinders it. After decades of progress in the area of wellness, people’s lifestyles have been improving, but for many the onset of the Covid pandemic causes a major disruption, and for some, the roof caved in. Their lifestyles began to hinder the healing cycle in crucial ways.
- Daily routines were thrown into chaos.
- Exercise got neglected.
- Passive distractions like texting and surfing the Internet took up more time.
- Meaningful work declined.
- Human contact was severely diminished.
- Symptoms of anxiety and depression were magnified.
- Stress took a larger toll than normal.
- Sleep became erratic.
Some fascinating new research from many sources is pointing to sleep as the key. For a long time our busy modern lifestyles have worked to the detriment of getting a good night’s sleep. At the same time, ironically, the importance of regular sound sleep has grown enormously. The arrival of the Covid pandemic has widened this gap between how we live and how we should live.
Specifically, researchers have spotted that levels of melatonin, the “Sleep Hormone,” seem to be involved in who gets infected and suffers serious illness, followed by potentially long-lasting damage to the nervous system. The conclusion of a long, detailed article at The Atlantic website offers a remarkably hopeful possibility: Melatonin might block the virus.
After reading the article you might be motivated to start taking melatonin, which is readily available over the counter, but one shouldn’t blithely alter the body’s hormone cycles. Covid isn’t going to be prevented with a supplement. The larger picture concerns the healing cycle. Melatonin levels point to a deeper factor, which is sleep itself. Sleep is connected to everything that happens when you undergo the healing cycle every day.
Insomnia and various sleep irregularities throw off biorhythms and hormone cycles—that much has been well established. Sleep deprivation is associated with almost anything that a hormone influences, which makes things so all-embracing that medical research is forced to isolate and study small parts of the entire picture, such as the relationship between bad sleep and type 2 diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, and depression.
Medicine is concerned with pathologies of every kind, but the healing cycle is about wellness as a whole. To support the healing cycle, you need to address your daily routine and do everything you can to correct the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Passively waiting for the vaccine has no prevention value, and there is some research connected to flu vaccines showing that people who get a good night’s sleep in the days before getting a flu shot receive more effectiveness form the vaccination.
In practical terms, the following steps should be given priority, because they relate directly to improving your sleep and getting the most out of the healing cycle:
- Go to sleep at the same time every night, including weekends.
- Spend time out in the sun on a daily walk, since sunlight promotes melatonin levels.
- Exercise every day, at the least getting up and stretching every hour.
- Don’t look at bright screens for two hours before bedtime. Their blue light suppresses melatonin levels.
- Reduce passive distractions and increase creative activities and work that is challenging to your mind. The healing cycle is thrown off by a passive lifestyle.
- Give sleep a priority rather than doing other things late at night.
The need for these measures has always existed; Covid simply brought them into high relief. Restoring the healing cycle to its natural functioning has benefits extending far beyond the pandemic. But you should consider this a foundation, not the complete answer.
The other disruptions I mentioned above can’t be overlooked. Lockdowns and social distancing automatically reduce human contact. People at younger ages are prone to sudden exposure to what a bad old age feels like: isolated, lonely, depressing, and boring. At a minimum, you need to keep up human contact and become part of an active support system, even if this contact is at a distance and involves phone calls rather than going out to lunch or meeting at work.
From every direction, one hears that the pandemic is leading to a major reset on a global scale. What will actually come about is still speculative. We are living under emergency conditions, which gives priority to emergency measures. But on your own, you can undertake the most important reset that matters personally. Reset the healing cycle, and you will be prepared for emergency conditions and the world that will emerge after the emergency subsides.