Hanger (a combination of hunger and anger) is a very real emotional response for some. It rears its ugly head when you’re hungry and food isn’t forthcoming. If you’ve ever experienced hanger, you know the power food has over your mood.

But the impact eating has on your attitude is about more than keeping your belly full. There are important ties between specific nutrients and mood. Those connections deserve exploration. That’s because nutritional remedies can pair well with healthy habits, self-care, professional recommendations, and lifestyle adjustment to help manage your mood.

You can design a diet that keeps you satisfied and helps your body maintain the conditions for a bright mood. And it will help you keep the hanger at bay.

The Basics of Food, Nutrients, and Mood

If you’re wondering why food is important to your mood, blame your brain—mostly. Your body’s command center deals with the demands of running your body. But it’s also pretty demanding, too.

Your brain churns through a lot of energy. It also is a bit of a hedonist—valuing pleasurable reward over almost anything. Food is the key to caloric contentment and also provides pleasure for your brain. Eating triggers the release of important brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) with ties to mood—especially endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.

It’s not just your brain, though. The nutritional needs of your whole body can impact how you feel. Even small nutrient insufficiencies can have major consequences. A lack of some micronutrients can start a chain reaction. Enzymes (helper proteins in your body) don’t work as well without vitamins and minerals to aid their activity. When enzymes aren’t in tip-top shape, your mood—and other aspects of your health—can suffer.

That’s probably why adequate nutrition (including supplementation) has been shown in many studies and meta-analyses to support your mood. One specific double-blind experiment tested large doses of nine vitamins against a placebo. After a year, males and females both reported being more agreeable.

Science backs up the ties between food, nutrients, and mood. So, how can you use this knowledge to your advantage? What nutrients and foods should you target? The answers await in this list of mood-supporting nutrients and compounds.

Magnesium for Your Mood

Your whole body needs magnesium. That’s why it’s an essential mineral. But it goes above and beyond, acting as a helper for over 300 enzyme systems in your body. With that widespread impact, there have to be some crossovers with mood management, right?

One such connection between magnesium and mood happens in your brain (no surprise). The mineral acts as a buffer for important receptors in nerve and brain cells. This protective action helps keep these cells healthy.

Magnesium also plays a role in stress responses. It acts as a triple-pronged check on stress responses in your body:

  • In the brain, it helps maintain normal stress-hormone levels.
  • Atop the kidneys, magnesium supports the adrenal glands’ normal response to a hormone that activates cortisol and adrenaline production, which helps support healthy levels of these stress hormones.
  • In the bloodstream, it can act as a blood-brain barrier to maintain a healthy interaction between stress hormones and the brain.

To top it all off, magnesium has ties to maintaining normal, healthy serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is your master mood maintainer and is tied to feelings of happiness.

Find magnesium in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meats, and milk. Even some hard water contains variable amounts of this mineral.

Zinc is an Amazing Mood Metal

Like magnesium, zinc is a helper in over 300 enzymes. But the biggest stock of zinc is in your brain’s hippocampus—a major mood center.

Zinc also aids in brain health through its role in cell growth, differentiation, and neural function. It participates in fine-tuning stress responses in your brain and body. Zinc is even important to cell signaling and various brain chemicals.

Studies about memory, learning, and mood have found links between optimal zinc levels and supporting brain health and normal mood maintenance. Don’t miss out on this mineral. You can find zinc in meat, liver, eggs, oysters, and seafood.

In the Mood for B Vitamins

If you get overwhelmed trying to understand the differences between all the B vitamins, there’s a solution. Take a variety of these eight essential vitamins. It won’t help you keep them straight, but many of the B vitamins have been shown to support your mood. So, at least you’ll feel OK about it.

B vitamins are critical in the production of brain chemicals that impact your mood—particularly dopamine and serotonin. Both of those brain chemicals have ties to happiness and pleasure. If you don’t have enough B vitamins (especially B6 and B12) to make adequate amounts of the neurotransmitters, you can start to feel it.

Several B vitamins also help keep your nerves healthy. That’s important for good communication, which plays a role in your overall state of mind. Thiamin (B1) has also been show in studies to support mood.

The B vitamins are scattered throughout the dietary landscape. Find thiamin in brown rice and squash. Riboflavin is in dairy products, spinach, almonds, and broccoli. Beans, bananas, potatoes, meat, and nuts contain vitamin B6. For folate, turn to legumes, asparagus, fortified breakfast cereals, and spinach. And B12 is abundant in seafood, beef, fish, and eggs.

Omega-3s: In Mood, Fat is Your Friend

Your brain is about 60 percent fat. It’s just a fact, because fat—especially essential fatty acids like omega-3s—is what your brain is mainly made out of. And since your brain is largely responsible for your mood, fat has ties to how you feel.

The fatty makeup of your central nervous system is crucial to proper signaling. Omega-3s make up about 20 percent of your brain cell membranes and your nervous system is also composed of a lot of fat. So, keeping those membranes stocked with essential fatty acids help maintain healthy membranes, which helps promote healthy signaling and support a balanced mood.

Your body can’t make enough of the important omega-3s (DHA and EPA) you need. That’s why they’re so important. You’ll have to turn to your diet. Adding more fatty, cold-water fish (think mackerel, salmon, herring, and anchovies) to your meals is a great way to get more omega-3 DHA and EPA.

Caffeine Can Elevate More Than Energy

You don’t want to talk to some people before they’ve had their morning coffee. Blame caffeine.

The world’s most popular natural stimulant has big effects on energy and mood. It revs up the body’s central nervous system and has been doing so for centuries all around the world. The popularity and longevity of this mood-affecting substance says a lot about the power and effectiveness of caffeine. But how does it actually work?

The long explanation involves a lot of brain chemicals and receptors. The short answer is that caffeine supercharges your brain and nervous system. It supports your naturally stimulating chemicals, which helps you stay alert and feeling better about the day.

Make sure to manage your caffeine intake so it doesn’t overstimulate anxieties or throw your sleep schedule out of whack. You can find caffeine in coffee, green and black tea, and chocolate.

Dark Chocolate, Lighter Moods

Reaching for chocolate when you feel down is natural. That’s because it’s the king of mood foods. And turning to dark chocolate has well-studied mood benefits, and is much better for you than milk chocolate.

The more cacao (or cocoa) in the chocolate, the more mood-supporting compounds you’ll find. Anandamide is one. This fatty acid acts as a neurotransmitter that can affect mood. Another, phenylethylamine, is an organic compound that acts like a mood-supporting brain and nervous system chemical.

Be careful with this semi-sweet treat. You’ll still get sugar and lots of fat. But darker chocolate (the higher the percent of cacao or cocoa, the darker the product) has a better balance of beneficial and unhealthy components.

Nutrients and Mood: Other Emerging Compounds

Researchers are constantly evaluating new connections between specific nutrients and mood. They’re picking out different plant compounds found in the diet and throughout world history to explore how they support a healthy, normal mood.

Here’s just a few compounds that have been around for a long time, but have new, emerging research about mood maintenance:

  • Saffron: a vibrant spice made from the saffron crocus flower.
  • Ashwagandha: an important herb used as an herbal preparation in India for thousands of years.
  • Lemon Balm: a common herb in the mint family.

Feed Your Mood

Take charge of your temperament. Pack your diet with foods containing these mood-supporting nutrients. And see how diet decisions can do more than stave off the hanger monster. If you struggle fitting these nutrients in your meals, supplementation is a good alternative—especially for those who may have dietary restraints. Whether through a meal or supplementation, it’s time to give “eating your feelings” a new meaning.

Things seem to pile up, don’t they? And they seem to do so way too often. You’re plugged in, always ready to hear the ding of an email or the vibration of a text message signaling the next task to tackle. This is the new normal.

You’ve found ways to be productive. Mostly because there’s no alternative. But productivity doesn’t always equal happiness. Churning through task after task can allow stress to build up without release. And constantly being “on” can become overwhelming.

If that sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. The World Health Organization has called stress the “epidemic of the 21st century.” Research has shown that mismanaged or ignored stress can lead to serious issues.

But that doesn’t have to be your life.

Learning ways to decompress and finding stress-free moments in everyday life is important for long-term health. So how do you maneuver what’s next on the to-do list and discover ways to sneak a few necessary deep breaths?

There are plenty of avenues that have shown to be effective. And science backs them up in more ways than one. The slideshow below has eight stress management tips to help you decompress — because it’s vital to your everyday well-being.

1. Take a Break

In the moment, taking a break might seem like the last thing you want to do. You’re hardwired to power through the rigors of your responsibilities. But stopping and stepping away is crucial. That’s because even brief gaps are known to be stress-reducers.

So, lock your phone. Close your laptop. Get up from your desk. Take a walk outside. Dive into something else during your break. And “getting fresh air” isn’t just a catchphrase—taking some time outdoors is proven to help you decompress in your most needed moments.


2. Hear the Keys: Classical Music Helps

At first, it might seem a bit odd, but listening to classical music in times of stress helps soothe the mind. The tinkling piano keys and sweeping strings may help manage stress.

An experiment in 2000 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine measured the effects of classical music on attention, relaxation, and stress responses. Those who listened to music after stress exposure reported more relaxation.

Another study showed that those who listen to classical music had significantly lower blood pressure levels than those who did not. The calming sounds aided in stress management and led directly to what everyone seeks: a bit of tranquility.


3. Limit Screen Time

Sounds impossible to break away from your screen, right? For most, it is. Your life is ingrained into every screen you own and operate.

It’s been shown that too much time staring at screens can lead to headaches and sleep issues. One report blames the light from backlit screens for interfering with the body’s natural ability to wind down before sleep. If your sleep is disturbed, it leads to more issues and can make it harder to deal with your everyday stressors.

Here’s a tip to help out: At night—at least two hours before bedtime—put the phone or tablet away.


4. Exercise to Change Things Up

If you’re having a tough time managing your stress, get your brain fixated on something else. And exercise is a great escape. That could be mean time spent on the elliptical machine or playing recreational sports with friends. Running for an allotted time gives you a break and produces endorphins (helpful hormones in your brain), too.

One study found exercise can reduce short-term stresses. It also helps you decompress ahead of the normal everyday life responsibilities you have after leaving the gym or field.


5. Talk it Out—But Listen, Too

Finding a way to clear the mind is a crucial part of everyday life. That’s because it’s a very important way to limit stress. And sometimes the best way to clear your mind is to let those stressful feelings spill out of your mouth. It’s a much better alternative than letting the stress and tension build up to unhealthy levels.

Talking it out is great, but focusing outside of yourself is important, too. Listening and helping others solve problems focuses your energy away from your stresses onto solutions. You’ll also get perspective on your life and the satisfaction of doing good. That’s why helping out a friend or loved one is a solid plan. Being a sounding board for those in your life who need a little guidance can go a long way—for you, and for them.


6. Eat Right, Feel Great

Mom was right. Less candy, more veggies. All the sugary or fatty, carb-filled comfort foods aren’t a long-term solution. But a well-balanced diet supports a healthy immune system, stable energy levels, and more pleasant overall demeanor.

One report declares that roughly 95 percent of receptors for serotonin (a chemical tied to happiness) are found in the lining of your gut. So, feed them. Don’t skip meals and treat yourself to healthy foods.

Also, if you’re looking for ways to decompress, cut back on caffeine. Limit coffee, energy drinks, and tea. Too much caffeine can spur anxious feelings and restlessness. Staying hydrated—6-to-8 glasses of water each day—is key, too.


7. Laugh it Up

Movies, shows, or jokes that get you chuckling go further than the initial gut-buster. That kind of joyful reaction is proven to be a positive for those battling various stresses. There’s no better way to decompress than laughing, or even smiling, for that matter.

A study showed that positive facial expressions influenced the body’s response to stress. Laughter has proven to shrink stress responses and stimulates your heart, lungs and body muscles.


8. Chew Gum. No, Seriously

A stick of gum can make a world of difference. And not just to mask what you ate for lunch.

An intervention study examined the effects of gum and work-related stress. It found that chewing gum at work and outside the workplace reduced anxious or down feelings, fatigue, and actually put people in a better mood. How about that? There’s no data yet on also blowing bubbles.


Start Using These Stress Management Tips

There are clearly plenty of ways to manage stress. You’ve just seen eight good ones. So, when you have those familiar stressful moments, remember that there are a number of different solutions. Bookmark this list so you have quick access to routine fixes—backed by scientific evidence—that can bring your everyday stress down a notch.

Mood can be hard to predict. It may seem like the product of circumstance or experience. But your mood and mood triggers are much more complex. Stressors spark an emotional response in the body with the help of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that carry messages) and hormones. So, brain chemistry is just as responsible for your emotions and types of mood as life events.

Learn how emotions are created in your brain. And give yourself the tools you need to master your mood.

Memory and Mood Triggers: The Anatomy of the Limbic System

The brain is a powerful, multi-functional organ. It has a lot of work to do all at once because it’s your body’s command center. Each area houses specialized brain cells (neurons) that perform certain tasks. The section of brain in charge of mood is located at the core—right in the middle of all the activity. It’s called the limbic system.

This network of neurons houses your emotional center and is responsible for managing your mood. The location of the limbic system is essential to its function. Many pieces of the brain work together in the limbic system. Most notable are the hippocampus and amygdala.


The hippocampus is located at the center of the brain and branches into both hemispheres. The word hippocampus means “sea horse” in Greek and is thought to refer to its unique shape. While its shape may have little to do with its function, your memory has everything to do with the hippocampus. That’s because long-term memories are stored there.

The tie to long-term memory makes the hippocampus crucial to learning. In this part of the brain, bits and pieces of short-term memory are consolidated and stored away. Sensory information, like taste and smell, is bound to long-term memory in the hippocampus. This link is strengthened as the events associated with taste or smell are repeated.

Smells are the most effective at recalling information from long-term memory. Distinctive scents can remind you of places you’ve visited or people you know. Experiencing smells linked to positive memories can even elevate your mood.

Take, for instance, the smell of your mother’s perfume. After a hug or a kiss from your mom you can smell her perfume strongly. You also feel her love when she shows you how much she cares for you.

The next time you go shopping at a department store, you walk passed a vendor selling the same fragrance your mother wears. Just a whiff of that perfume can be enough to evoke the memory of the last time you were with your mom. That is because your brain has tied the scent of her perfume to your memory of her.

Remembering your mother and how much she loves you puts you in a better mood. All thanks to your hippocampus and the inner workings of your limbic system.

Neurogenesis (creation of brain cells from stem cells) also takes place in the hippocampus. New brain cells maintain brain plasticity and help you learn new things. As brain cells are formed, so are opportunities for your hippocampus to link sensory information to what you learn.


The amygdala sits next to the hippocampus and also influences memory. But the amygdala doesn’t tie sensory information to memories. It links emotions.

The amygdala gauges how memories are stored based on the strength of emotions attached to the memory. Memories filled with strong emotion are easily recalled, while experiences with little emotion or excitement fade away.

Imagine competing in a spelling bee at school. You and the other participants are asked to spell a series of words until a mistake is made. Mistakes in spelling bees result in elimination from the competition. At the beginning, the words you need to spell are simple and familiar. As you advance, the words you are given become more complex.

If you advance far in the spelling bee, you may have a difficult time recalling what words you were asked to spell in the beginning. But if you are eliminated late in the game or even win, you are certain to remember your last word. The excitement of making it far in the competition will ensure it stays locked in your memory for a long time.

This is similar to how the amygdala works in the limbic system. Events with little emotional significance like the easy words in the spelling bee aren’t kept in memory. But moments woven with powerful emotion (like the last word you completed before winning the spelling bee) stick out.

The next time you hear or see that winning word, you might experience a rush of pride and excitement. That is your amygdala working full force.

The Chemistry of Mood

Hormones and neurotransmitters (those important chemical messengers) work in the limbic system and throughout the body. They generate the emotions you experience throughout the day. These compounds work in tandem with the events in your life to trigger your many types of mood.


This neurotransmitter is the master mood regulator. Serotonin works with receptors in the brain to elevate mood, sharpen memory, and promote healthy sleep habits.

Serotonin is produced in the brain and all along the digestive tract. The precursor to serotonin is tryptophan. This amino acid is commonly found in high-protein foods like turkey, eggs, and cheese.

Serotonin works to regulate your mood. It functions in the body to elicit feelings of happiness and well-being. The master mood regulator facilitates communication between neurons and controls the intensity of signals.

Some physiological circumstances may alter the hormone’s availability to your brain. Low availability of serotonin may cause feelings of sadness, lethargy, and sleepiness. When plenty of serotonin is available to the brain, you feel alert and content.

There is evidence to suggest a relationship between serotonin and appetite. Healthy levels of serotonin may help your body recognize when it is full and prevent overeating. Serotonin can also minimize cravings for sweet and starchy foods.

To make serotonin more available in your body, try eating foods rich in tryptophan and get a good amount of exercise. Physical activity is thought to increase the function of serotonin in your brain and can reduce stress.


To understand how the hormone cortisol affects mood, it’s important to learn about stress. The first thing to know debunks a common misconception. Not all stress is bad. In fact, stress drives you to eat and sleep. Stress keeps your brain goal-oriented and motivated to complete tasks.

Eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress) both trigger the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol initiates an urgent fight-or-flight emotional reaction in the wake of stressful events. When circumstances of eustress cause cortisol levels to rise, you may feel invigorated, alert, and determined. As the stressor passes, cortisol levels return to normal and your mood adjusts accordingly.

But in times of distress, cortisol levels rise and stay high—even after the distress passes. This increase in stress hormone can be triggered by the loss of a loved one, illness, sudden unemployment, etc. Feelings of uneasiness, tension, and anxiety accompany a rise in cortisol.

Luckily, there are measures you can take to keep cortisol from dampening your mood. Exercise provides an outlet for pent up feelings of fight-or-flight. Talking with loved ones and socializing with friends can help the amount of cortisol in the blood return to normal. These activities can combat the anxiety and fatigue caused by distress and help you move forward. 


Known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is a powerful player in your mood. Oxytocin is produced in the brain by the hypothalamus. Not to be confused with the hippocampus, the hypothalamus is another portion of the brain that works in the limbic system. Hormone regulation takes place in the hypothalamus.

The love hormone is distributed throughout the body by the pituitary gland. Blood levels of oxytocin rise after experiences like the birth of a child, the beginning of a relationship, and physical touch.

Oxytocin creates feelings of love and trust. That’s where the name “love hormone” comes from. The presence of this hormone in your blood helps you form emotional attachments to loved ones—friends, family, even pets. Oxytocin can also relieve physical discomfort by helping your body maintain a sense of calm and well-being during times of physical stress.

Activities that increase the amount of available oxytocin in your body can help elevate your mood. Singing to your children, embracing a loved one, breastfeeding, intimacy with a partner, and social interactions all contribute to increased oxytocin. Understanding how to supply your body with the love hormone helps you take advantage of its calming and peaceful benefits.

Creating a Positive Mood

Awareness of how mood is managed by your brain can help you take steps to improve your mood daily. That’s because a lot of emotional balance and types of mood are determined by brain chemistry. So, look for ways to reduce stress hormones, like cortisol, and increase the availability of serotonin and oxytocin. Research suggests that meditation, physical activity, and laughter can all boost your mood.

Here’s how each of these activities work scientifically as mood triggers:


When stressors arise (as they always do), your body shifts into fight-or-flight territory. It prepares you to battle the stressor or run from it. The heightened cortisol levels associated with this response lead to feelings of anxiety and nervousness. You may notice your heart pounding and palms beginning to sweat. To quell the nerves brought on by stress, consider meditating.

Meditation is different for everyone, but one goal is common—stress reduction. Start by taking slow, steady, deep breaths. Forcing your body to regain composure after a stressful event can keep cortisol levels from rising out of control. Concentrate on positive thinking and fill your mind with thoughts that will lift your spirits.


Physical activity is extremely effective in elevating mood. Regular exercise provides you with the opportunity to unplug for a good chunk of time and achieve health and fitness goals. Improvements in physical fitness over time boost self-esteem and increase confidence.

Serotonin levels may also be linked to exercise. Daily activity is believed to increase serotonin in the brain and elevate mood. In addition, sleep improves with exercise. This could be due to the fact that exercise makes your body tired, thus helping you sleep more soundly.  And many people enjoy a happier mood after a good night’s sleep.


It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. And it does wonders for mood, too. A good laugh eases physical tension by increasing oxygen flow to the brain and body. Humor can help alleviate discomfort by sending a surge of endorphins (hormones that act as natural pain killers) into your blood stream. As a result, your mood improves.

Like exercise, laughter releases built-up muscle tension. Relaxing tight muscle groups can alleviate some of the physical signs of stress and focus you on creating a positive mood.

Applying the Science of Mood

Your mood is multifaceted and influenced by a variety of factors. The combination of circumstance and biochemistry make your emotions vary from day to day. Learning how your brain works to regulate your mood can make you more equipped to tackle stress without taking an emotional roller coaster ride. And by understanding how to maintain a healthy balance of hormones and neurotransmitters, you can take steps each day to manage your mood.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

As the sun recedes, nighttime approaches. The light fades and the darkness crawls in. It welcomes you to do the same: crawl into your bed and retire for the night. The darkness is like a blanket. Tuck into its warmth and the outside world quiets, allowing your internal world to do the same.

If you’re like many these days, though, turning in for the night is not so simple. It’s become increasingly difficult to put the phone (or other tech device) away when the nighttime beckons. And the next morning is no different. Modern life is built around technology. It’s likely become integral to how you work and interact with others. And unfortunately, even bedtime and morning routines are no longer exempt from technology’s touch.

Phone to Bed, Phone to Rise

Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, it seems the smart phone or another tech device isn’t far. Many rely on phones to tell them when to wake up and even remind them when to go to bed. Many doing desk jobs find that work revolves around a screen. Computers keep people connected to colleagues, provide easy communication, and keep schedules organized.

It doesn’t stop at the office exit doors. Recreation and relaxation have come to center around technology. Increasing internet speeds, accessibility of streaming video, and game consoles have started to monopolize how people choose to spend their downtime.

Completely freeing yourself from screens would be hard—and unnecessary. There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying screen-based entertainment. But indulging for hours, especially at night, could harm your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

This disruption can throw off your sleep schedule. Turning in later not only decreases the quantity of sleep, but likely the quality, too. But why? How is ticking away the hours with your phone different than curling up with a book (a paperback, not an e-book)? Let’s find out how technology affects sleep. Dive into the science behind blue light, the body’s sleep process, and how they interact.

The Blues of Blue Light

Your ancestors lived by the sun. As it rose, they awoke. As it set, they turned in and slept. Before electricity, the world went dark with the disappearance of the sun, save for some candlelight. This means the human body became accustomed to the rhythms of light and dark. Internal processes adapted to match what was happening in the external world.

When lightbulbs lit up the world stage, things began to change. Humans no longer had a reason to turn in early, because light could be created at will. But the lightbulb’s glow was different than the blue light emitted by digital screens.

But what exactly is blue light? Natural sunlight is white light. But if broken down into its components, you’ll find the rainbow: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Each of these types of light have a different energy and wavelength. Light on the bluer end of the spectrum carries higher energy in shorter wavelengths.

Sunlight is blue-heavy, so this energetic light keeps you awake and alert. In fact, blue light actually suppresses your body’s secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is why your body naturally wants to wake up in the morning. Dusk is the opposite. As the sun recedes, the residual light is steeped in red (lower energy, longer wavelength). This means red light has the opposite effect of blue, and doesn’t suppress melatonin. So, it doesn’t interfere with your natural circadian rhythm.

Screens are the Key to How Technology Affects Sleep

Now that you have an understanding of blue light as it relates to natural sunlight, it’s time to shift the focus to artificial, screen-based lights.

Screens (your phone, tablet, computer, or television) emit blue light that interact with cells deep behind the eyes. In simplest terms, when your eyes take in blue light, a couple of things happen. These cells express a protein that goes on to communicate with a specific part of the brain. Together, these events help synchronize your circadian rhythm with the sun.

Basically, when you take in blue light, your brain tells you it’s time to wake up or stay awake. With this knowledge, the impact of screens on the quality and cycles of your sleep starts to become clear. And the question of whether time with a screen or behind a book is better is no longer a mystery.

Let’s drive this point home with some scientific research.

In a small study, researchers divided individuals into three groups and asked them to interact with a digital tablet for two hours before bed. Group 1 wore goggles fitted with blue-emitted LEDs. This was known as the “true positive” group, since blue light is known to suppress melatonin. Group 2 wore orange-tinted glasses to filter out blue light (the “dark control” group). Group 3 weren’t given goggles or glasses.

The findings were enlightening.

After two hours of light exposure, participants in groups 1 and 3 experienced significant reduction in melatonin levels compared to the dark control group. Compare this experiment to a real-life example, like a two-hour long feature film. If you go to a late evening showing (without your orange-tinted goggles), the movie will likely affect your melatonin levels and discourage your body from readying itself for sleep.

Does Blue Light Mean a Blue Mood?

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. You may already intuitively understand that excessive time behind a screen isn’t natural or especially healthy. But are you aware of the emotional effects blue light—both too much and too little—can have? Getting the right amount of light, at the right time is key for maintaining your mood.

Shift work (graveyard shifts) and jet lag give glimpses into the effect of light (or lack thereof) on mood. Those who work late and sleep during the day often experience shifts in mood or irritability. Likewise, those who travel across time zones struggle adjusting to a new sleeping schedule. Temporary insomnia imposed by travel can leave you feeling edgy, exhausted, and emotionally off kilter.

Additionally, those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) struggle with shorter days with shorter periods of natural light. Some find comfort with SAD lamps, or light therapy. Light therapy is a possible treatment for SAD.

Light therapy is simple and can be done at home. A light therapy box (or SAD lamp) emits bright light that mimics the wavelength of natural light. Flooding the face and eyes with this bright light can help offset some of the mood shifts that come with the lack of natural light in the winter months. It can also help those who struggle with some sleep disorders, or adjusting to a graveyard shift.

Animal studies have offered additional clues. Researchers have noticed anxious and depressive symptoms in mice forced to live in constant light or constant darkness. While “constant light” might sound uplifting, consider your newfound knowledge. It also means constant blue light. That means that the eyes and brain are constantly stimulated, making rest hard to come by.

When you extrapolate similar conditions to humans, it’s not hard to imagine similar consequences. Humans experience the same affects under constant blue light. You need light to play and you seek darkness for rest.

Loosening Blue Light’s Grip on Your Sleep

Technology is the future, and screens are not going away anytime soon—if ever. It’s a fair assumption that most don’t want to risk social isolation by foregoing screens completely. Luckily, you can stay plugged in without damaging your physical and emotional wellness. Take a look at some ideas for finding a healthy balance:

  • Limit or eliminate your screen usage at a certain time. Remember the two-hour tablet study. Try turning off (or putting away) your devices more than two hours before bed. Going cold turkey might be hard. Try doing this in 30-minute increments, increasing the time before bed as you get more comfortable.
  • Swap out your wind-down activities. Opt for something that soothes, rather than excites your brain. This could be reading, journaling, or walking. Any activity that doesn’t involve, or at least doesn’t depend on, a screen to function, will do.
  • Add a blue-light filter to all of your devices. If you use Apple products, open the control center from your home screen. You might be familiar with the brightness icon, which allows you to control the intensity of light coming out of your screen. However, if you firmly hold down on the button, a new view will appear. Tap the button below the brightness meter (the image is a moon inside a sun). Turning this on will filter out most of the blue light. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, look up applications that provide the same function. Google Chrome has various extension options (like “Screen Shader”). You can also download an app like “f.lux.”

Screens might be here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they must rule the entirety of your days and nights. Armed with this new information about how technology affects sleep, all you need is a little bit of forethought and planning to reclaim a regular, restful routine. Maybe a tip from the list above resonates with you. Or you can find something better that integrates to your life. Either way, it’s possible to balance your screen usage and limit your exposure to blue light.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! An entire night has passed in the blink of an eye. The last thing you remember is your head hitting the pillow in the dark. Now, seemingly seconds later, the incessant, blaring of the alarm clock wakes you. But it does no help in reminding you what day it is, where you are, or perhaps even who you are.

Surely, you’ve experienced a morning like this: groggy, confused, and sleep-deprived. The effort to keep your eyes open feels exhausting. Standing up and leaving your warm bed behind is torturous. The day’s long to-do list awaits you and seems daunting.

Of course, you soldier on and make it through the day. But what does that day look like? It’s surely not smooth sailing, all quiet keyboard clicks and soothing, classical music. No, on days like this, you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of noises—the cell phone ringing, inbox pinging, and doors slamming after you in a hurry. All whilst trying to drown out the chatter in your head— “Don’t forget to do this!” and “I forgot to do that!”

Foregoing solid, quality sleep can affect your day in a big way. It’s important to remember that the effects of sleep deprivation are not just physical, like the physical feeling of exhaustion. Just like the scenario above, low-quality or insufficient sleep can manifest itself mentally and emotionally. That can include a loss of concentration, short attention span, and even anger. Lack of sleep can also mean a lack of motivation and sharp decision-making skills, forgetfulness, and anxiety.

Sleep is important for feeling rested, but it’s more than physical downtime. Sleep is also your brain’s chance to recharge and regroup. Let’s look more in-depth at the physical and mental benefits of regular, quality sleep.

Sleep and Health: The Pros and Cons

Pro of Good Sleep Con of Poor Sleep
Mental Solidifies memory retention and information recall Decreases ability to concentrate
Enhances learning and problem-solving capabilities Poor decision-making skills
Increases alertness Shorter attention span
Boosts creativity Lack of motivation
Promotes adaptability and resiliency Inability to cope with change
Better regulation of emotions Increases risk for feeling down
Physical Maintains cardiovascular health Increases risk for cardiovascular and kidney issues
Helps regulate hormones associated with hunger Increases risk of obesity
Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels Increases risk for blood-sugar issues
Maintains healthy development, muscle growth, and tissue repair Interruption of growth hormone secretion
Supports strong immunity Increases risk of common cold

Science of Sleep: What Happens When You Snooze

Sleep gives your body and mind an opportunity to power down and recharge. It might seem like this period is simply an absence of consciousness, where the body goes into a sort of idling mode. However, during sleep, your body and brain are actually working hard. Sleep activates a process that helps you rest, repair, and recharge. Take a closer look at the processes during the four different stages of sleep.

Stage 1 is the period between wakefulness and sleep. In this stage, everything starts to slow down. Muscles soften, heart and breathing rates decrease, and brain-wave patterns begin to change.

Stage 2 is light sleep. Your muscles loosen even more, heart and breathing rates continue to slow, and your body temperature drops.

Stage 3 is the deepest sleep stage. Here, your heart and breathing rates come to the lowest point of the entire sleep cycle. Your muscles are extremely relaxed and rousing you would prove difficult. It’s this stage that is integral to quality sleep. Without enough time spent in this sleep state, you will not awaken feeling well-rested.

Stage 4 (the final stage of the sleep cycle) is known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. The first three stages involve non-rapid eye movement sleep or non-REM (NREM).

In many other ways, REM is also quite the opposite of the preceding three stages. Heart rate increases and breathing rate can quicken and become irregular. Eyes move rapidly behind the eyelids and brain activity livens. Dreaming is commonly experienced during the REM sleep stage. Your body might actually experience temporary paralysis of the limbs, a protective measure to keep the body from acting out movements about which you dream.

These four stages are cycled through in succession until you wake up. It’s necessary for you to experience both NREM and REM sleep to remain sharp through the day. Without both, memory consolidation is harmed. As you’ve surely experienced, after a night of little-to-no sleep, it can be very difficult to recall even simple information quickly.

Factors Impacting Your Sleep

Good sleep can seem like a complex puzzle. Many factors can influence the quality and duration of your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, try keeping a journal to monitor the factors below. You can jot down notes throughout the day or write a quick summary before bed. Whichever your preferred method, having a daily snapshot of your diet, activity level, and emotional state can give you an idea of which of these things improve or harm your sleep quality:

  • Caffeine: This stimulant usually wakes up the body and can keep you from feeling tired. In fact, caffeine actually blocks the substance adenosine, a chemical that your body secretes to make you sleepy. While this can be a benefit in the morning or during a long day, ingesting too much caffeine in the late afternoon or early evening can affect your sleep.
  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol too late in the evening can disrupt your sleep patterns. More specifically, it can disrupt your REM sleep, leaving your cycles incomplete. On a simpler level, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the urge to urinate more frequently. So, having too much alcohol can also disrupt your rest because you might have to make more frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • Diet: The timing and content of your last meal can affect your readiness for bed. Think of the blood sugar surge that comes from a meal or snack. The boost in energy late in the day can keep you from winding down easily.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help you maintain a regular sleep schedule. Just don’t exercise too late in the evening before bed, or your body won’t have time to settle back down before turning in.
  • Stress level and emotional state: Consider how stressful your day was or your emotional state throughout the day. If you’re feeling especially worn down, worried, or otherwise stressed, it can be very difficult to quiet your mind for bed.
  • Bright lights: You’re constantly being bombarded by light, with can impact production of your sleep hormone. Make sure your room is dark, and take a break from bright screens (TV, phones, and tablets) before you tuck in.

7 Tips for Better Quality Rest

After journaling for a week, you may notice some patterns. Pay close attention to what these clues are trying to tell you. From these, you can create a personalized wind-down plan to prepare you for bedtime. If journaling isn’t your style, or you need some easy ideas, the seven tips for super sleep are below:

  1. Consider cutting back on how much caffeine you drink, or impose a “caffeine deadline”—a point at which you won’t ingest any more for the day.
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation or impose an “alcohol deadline” so that your body has time to readjust before bed.
  3. Avoid eating a meal or post-meal snack too late in the evening.
  4. Exercise regularly, preferably early in the day. A good starting point is 20 minutes per day—and work up from there.
  5. Plan for at least seven hours of sleep. You may need more than seven. But this is a good target to work up to if you’re currently and routinely getting less than this benchmark. While you may not be able to reach seven hours immediately, start incrementally heading for bed sooner so the change is gradual and more doable.
  6. Set a regular bedtime and waking time—and stick to it, even on weekends. This kind of routine is helpful for keeping your body’s internal clock in rhythm.
  7. Incorporate relaxation or meditation into your wind-down routine. Turn off screens, dim your bedroom lights, play light instrumental music. Light stretching can help your body release tension before laying down.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

You can’t hide from all the germs. Theoretically, you could spend a lot of time and money sanitizing your whole life. But where’s the fun in that? Also, it’s unnecessary. Your body can protect itself—that’s what the immune system does. So, build your immunity instead of obsessing over avoiding germs. Luckily, simple immune boosting habits easily mesh with your healthy lifestyle.

And you don’t need anything special to support your immune health. Healthy living and tweaks to your lifestyle are enough to help build your immunity.

A lot of these immune boosting habits double as generally helpful healthy behaviors. That means you can earn a lot of health benefits out of these simple changes to your life. So, you’ll obtain a lot more out of these actions than any efforts to sterilize your entire life.

Sleep Your Way to a Healthy Immune System

When you’re tired, so is your immune system. This puts you at risk for coming down with whatever’s going around. Tucking in for enough high-quality sleep is a dream for you, and your immune health.

Sleep allows your body—including the parts of your immune system—to rest, repair, and refresh. This nightly renewal helps build your immunity. Need proof? A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed a link between adequate sleep and immune function.

Researchers identified the eight-hour mark as an important line of demarcation. Less than eight hours of sleep was tied to a three-fold increase in the likelihood of catching the common cold. Other research supports this conclusion, showing how immune-cell production can be hampered by sleep deprivation.

One simple immune boosting habit is making the time for at least eight hours of quality sleep. That could mean setting a bedtime alarm, or giving yourself deadlines for nighttime activities. And remember to work your way up to your goal. It’s probably not sustainable to go from six hours to eight immediately. But you can work your way up in smaller, 15-minute increments.

Use Moderate Exercise to Build Your Immunity

Exercise is great for many things, including weight management and stress management. But the relationship between working out and immune function is slightly more complicated.

Researchers have struggled to lay out all the details involved in exercise’s impact on immunity. That’s not surprising. There are complex reactions happening—especially with strenuous exercise.

One thing is clear, though: moderate exercise is beneficial for your immune system. One study says it “seems to exert a protective effect.” Being in better shape helps with overall health, so your immune system benefits, too. And the movement aids blood flow and helps immune cells migrate throughout your body.

You don’t have to overdo it, though. And maybe you don’t really want to, given some of the research about strenuous exercise and immunity (it may, at least temporarily, dampen the immune system). Just getting moderate exercise—like a 30-minute walk every day—is enough. Also, it’s an immune boosting habit you can fit into your life without too much extra effort.

Help Your Immune System with Good Hygiene

You’re frequently told to wash your hands. And it’s for good reason. This tip doesn’t build your immunity or directly boost your immune system. But it will help you stay healthy, so it’s worth mentioning.

A consistent (not obsessive) hand-washing habit helps you limit your exposure to certain germs. It rinses away the potential pathogens that get on your hands. That keeps them from landing in airways, eyes, or other bodily entrance points. And it keeps you healthy.

The Most Relaxing Immune Boosting Habits

Normal, everyday stress—the kind of minor, daily annoyances that add up—is enough to throw your life out of whack. You probably already know how stress impacts your weight, sleep, and overall wellbeing. But it also can wreak havoc on your immune function.

Your hormones are to blame. That’s because stress hormones negatively impact many parts of your immune system. These hormones hamper the production of antibodies (proteins that mark invaders) and other immune cells. Stress has even been shown to give latent viral infections new life.

Unless you go to great lengths, you can’t totally avoid stress. So, you must learn to manage it. And it’s not easy. The phrase “just relax” is one of the least helpful things imaginable. Good thing other stress-management techniques are simple, and do work, though.

Try any of these approaches that sound nice to you:

  • Get a massage
  • Take a walk out in nature—the outside part is important
  • Develop and practice a self-care routine, like hygge
  • Meditate or do some deep breathing
  • Socialize with friends and family
  • Prioritize free time by blocking out your calendar for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Laugh (it really might be the best medicine)

Pets Can Perk Up Your Immune Health

Your pets are more than cuddly, cute, and loving. They’re beneficial to your health in many ways. And building immunity is definitely one of them.

Pets are great for melting stress away and helping you get moderate exercise. You’ve already heard about how exercise and stress management are immune boosting habits. But your pets can do more for your immunity—and it’s because they can be kind of gross.

That’s right. The microbes your pets naturally have or bring into your house aren’t all bad. They help build your immunity through exposure, which—as you’ll learn below—can be more helpful than harmful.

Researchers have found that infants who grow up around animals are less likely to develop allergies. And one study even showed that petting a live dog can increase an important immune-system protein—immunoglobulin A. So, give your pet some extra attention and affection for all the help they give your immunity.

Avoid Overindulging in Alcohol and Stop Smoking

Sometimes building immunity means moderating or ditching certain habits. Two you hear about in discussions of overall healthy habits also impact your immune health—smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

Both impair important barriers that help protect you from potential pathogens. Smoking impacts your nose and mouth, damaging the linings that help guard your airways from germs. Alcohol also strips away the lining of your mouth and throat. This leaves you vulnerable to viruses and bacteria.

So, if you’re going to drink, do it in moderation. But there’s no moderation when it comes to smoking. Quitting is the best option for your immunity—and your overall health.

Be Adventurous

Your immune system adapts to your life. It learns from the bacteria, viruses, and other microbes you encounter. And you come out with better immune protection.

That’s why the sterile approach to life doesn’t help build your immunity. It’s OK to take proper precautions. You don’t want to intentionally expose yourself to harmful bacteria or viruses. But being adventurous—going outside, eating fermented foods, and experiencing life—is one of the best immune boosting habits you can have.

Living your life helps your adaptive immunity (the part of your immunity that catalogs the microbes it encounters). It builds up your immunity memory bank and primes your immune system to protect you.

Make the Small Changes to Help Your Immune Health

Your immune system is always on alert. Its whole job is to keep you healthy. So, treat it right by incorporating some of these simple immune boosting habits into your life. You’ll build your immunity, and enhance your overall health, too.

Your immune system is powerful on its own, and even more impressive with the tools that surround it. Understanding the secrets of the immune system will paint a complete picture of what takes place inside your body to keep you healthy. Know this—your immune system anatomy is perfectly poised to neutralize threats to maintain health.

Explore the parts of your anatomy that work hand-in-hand with your immune cells to maintain your health. And learn the secrets of the immune system. Your genes, bone marrow, gut, and skin assist the cells of your immune system in protecting you. From smallest to largest, these helpers offer the support your immune system needs to keep you on your feet.

Genes: Immunity at the Most Basic Level

The secrets of the immune system start where all your traits do—your genetic code. When it comes to adaptive immunity (the part of your immune system that changes over time), genes play a central role. Through a group of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), the adaptive immune system catalogs information about what enters your body. It remembers what your body’s seen before and instructs white blood cells in a proper, healthy immune response.

MHC is a genetic code that is unique to every individual. Through this code, proteins on the surface of cells are created in response to stimulus by potential pathogens. When a germ is consumed and broken down by macrophages (a type of white blood cell), surface proteins are made. These MHC proteins are then stitched together with fragments of the destroyed pathogen and presented to the cells of the adaptive immune system. Those pieces of the destroyed pathogen help your immune cells remember.

Now adaptive immunity cells like B and T cells know what to do when the same invader shows up again. MHC proteins have flagged that microbe and made it a target of a future, healthy immune response. With instructions to divide and conquer, adaptive immunity cells can multiply and attack next time the germ is detected in the body.

The genes that control the MHC make your immune system efficient and effective. MHC keeps antibody production under control, only creating antibodies after the first exposure to a germ. So, your immune system can divert all its attention to unique and novel potential pathogens, noting each in its genetic memory.

Bone Marrow: Creating Blood and Immunity

The thick gel on the inside of your bones is called marrow. It does a lot of work for your immune system that you may never see. So, it’s hiding some secrets of the immune system.

Bone marrow is an organ that manufactures blood cells (the big science word for that is hematopoietic). Red and white blood cells get their start in bone marrow. Other powerful immune system players do, too.

There are two kinds of bone marrow in your body—red and yellow. Your yellow marrow is a precursor to the red marrow. It’s held in reserve to replenish stores of red marrow should significant blood loss occur.

That’s because red marrow is really important. It produces:

  • Red blood cells
  • Neutrophils (a type of white blood cells)
  • T cells (lymphocyte, or white blood cell, that acts in immune reactions not needing antibodies)
  • B cells (lymphocyte responsible for producing antibodies, which are immune proteins that bond to potential pathogens)

The role of these white blood cells in immune health is a popular topic—and you can find more in this immune system overview. But bone marrow produces other cells that work alongside these cellular giants.

Scientific research points to red marrow as the origin of natural killer cells and dendritic cells. Natural killer cells are also types of lymphocytes (white blood cells) that are close relatives of T and B cells. They can help protect you without priming antibodies. Dendritic cells act as immune-system messengers, tying your innate (the immune system you’re born with) and adaptive immunity together. They occur in the skin and digestive tract, and send messages to T cells.

There’s also a symphony of cellular communication going on in your bone marrow between all these developing and mature immune cells. So, your bone marrow is a buzzing central hub of activity for your immune protection.

Since bone marrow is so important to immunity, protecting it is imperative. Ensure you get enough vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and other trace mineral in your diet. Take care of your bones, and they will help take care of you, too.

Gut: Germs That Help You

Ironic as it may seem, your gut is full of bacteria. Your intestinal bacteria reside there inconspicuously—without causing much trouble. It may seem hard to understand, but these microbes play a crucial role in your immune system.

Your intestines encounter more antigens (foreign material that starts an immune response) than any other part of your body. While sifting through the plethora of microbes that reside inside, the intestinal mucosa (lining) must respond appropriately. That’s a big job for a barrier that is only one cell thick.

Potentially harmful microbes that try to break through the lining are stopped dead in their tracks. The cells lining your intestines secrete proteins that recruit white blood cells to the affected area. And, as you know, white blood cells pack a punch of protection. These epithelial cells also produce anti-microbial peptides and mucus that trap bacteria.

But not all bacteria pose a threat. Commensal microbes (those commonly called your gut microbiome) digest compounds and extract nutrients that your body can’t process on its own. Some intestinal bacteria also synthesize certain B vitamins and vitamin K. B vitamins, like vitamin B12, are also linked to supporting healthy immune system function. Vitamin K is an important component in maintaining the production of blood-clotting factors.

The community of helpful bacteria that lives in your gut starts developing at birth. A baby’s gut microbiome is colonized by any and all microorganisms they are exposed to during the first days of life. Through dietary and environmental factors, the microbiome in your belly is further shaped. Eating foods that contain bacteria generally thought to be beneficial—like yogurt and other fermented foods—help maintain a balance of healthy bacteria in your gut.

Skin: Protection That Surrounds You

Your skin doesn’t seem like one of the secrets of the immune system. Every day you look at this barrier between your internal organs and the outside world. As the largest organ of the body, skin’s primary role is to protect you from physical danger and invasion.

The first line of defense is a thick layer of dead cells. That’s right. The tough, protective nature of skin is made possible by dead skin cells called keratinocytes. The name comes from the fact that these cells are brimming with a protein called keratin. It’s a protein also in hair and fingernails. Keratin is tough and is a great shield for your vulnerable internal organs.

The top, dead layer isn’t all. Your skin is comprised of multiple layers of functional cells. When your skin generates new cells in the bottom layers, older cells die and are pushed to the top. When potential invaders come to make a home in your body, the top layers of dead keratinocytes block their entry.

Not all of the keratinocytes in your skin are dead, though. Those that are living reside just below the surface of your skin and help your immune system in another way. Living keratinocytes produce anti-microbial proteins. This defense mechanism works alongside other immune cells to keep your body healthy.

Inevitably, your skin gets wounded. Nicks and cuts, though harmless overall, open the door to the outside world. Luckily, your skin is equipped to handle just this sort of issue.

Without hesitation, an army of cells with specific tasks line up to seal the breach.

Scabs are the common term for hemostasis (the stopping a flow of blood). They are created when platelets (blood cells that form clots) surround the wound and start clotting. While clotting and forming a temporary cover over the broken skin, platelets request help from other immune cells via chemical signaling.

White blood cells—like neutrophils and macrophages—join the wound-healing effort after being recruited by platelets. These immune cells help protect the damaged skin. Then they pick up debris from the affected area and lay the groundwork for normal, healthy cell growth and division. Immune cells ensure that your skin has a clean slate on which it can build new, healthy tissue.

Without a secure barrier surrounding your body, you’re left unprotected. Good thing your skin is there to ward off unwanted guests. That’s why skin is a remarkable, dynamic organ that supports a powerful immune system.

Individualized Immunity

It’s true that your immune system is unique to you. Everyone has the same basic foundation of immunity, but your experiences define how your body responds. Your immune system is constantly learning and adapting. Each time it comes in contact with something new, it creates new defenses that are filed away for next time, too.

Your job is to provide a safe environment for your immune system in which to thrive. Washing your hands, getting adequate sleep, and practicing good personal hygiene will help keep your immunity in shape. Also take care of your body by eating a healthy, nutrient-filled diet and living a healthy lifestyle. Support your immune system so it can be ready to defend you.

You might not want to think about it, but we know germs are everywhere. Every place you go and everything you touch is awash with bacteria and other microbes. No nook, cranny, or surface is truly, totally clean. The good news is that most of the 60,000 types of germs you encounter every day are harmless, or even helpful, to your health. (That’s assuming you have a normal level of immunity.)

About one to two percent of germs, however, are potentially dangerous to your health. And the higher the germ density on an object, the more likely a sinister germ is living on it. One of the easiest ways to prevent contracting illnesses from these harmful germs is obvious—limit your contact.

That means cleaning your hands and your home. Of course, you do your best to keep clean areas where you know harmful germs love to camp out (e.g., toilets, communal shower floors). You also clean where microbes could do some damage by coming into contact with food (kitchen countertops or the dining room table).

But potentially harmful germs often lurk in places you might not expect. So, you probably aren’t trying to avoid or clean them. Below, you’ll find seven hidden sources of germs, and what you can do to help keep yourself healthy.

1. Laundry Machines

It’s time to air your hamper’s dirty laundry: your clothing is covered in germs. Each pair of underwear harbors 0.1 gram of fecal matter, meaning one load of laundry could have about 100 million E. coli bacteria roaming around. That might not be what you’d expect from an appliance you think is clean—because its job is to, well, clean. To combat the ick, you need to take a two-pronged approach:

  • 1. Get your clothes free from as many of those E. coli germs as possible.
  • 2. Keep your machine more sanitary.

To get your clothes cleaner, wash in hot water and dry them in a dryer for 45 minutes. If fabric care instructions direct against either of both of these tips, line dry in the sun. Also, don’t sort or fold clean laundry on the same table you used to sort dirty laundry without disinfecting first.

To kill bacteria in your washing machine, wash your whites first using hot water and chlorine bleach. And wash your underwear separately after you’ve completed all your other loads.

Oh, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling dirty or wet laundry.

2. Kitchen Faucet

You probably already know bathroom faucets are a hotbed for germs. That’s why many public restrooms have moved to automated models. But the kitchen faucet can host an unsavory bunch of bacteria, like E. coli, salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, norovirus, and even hepatitis-A.

And nope, it’s not just the handles (though you should clean those regularly, too). You know the tiny metal aeration screen at the end of your faucet? Turns out it provides the perfect conditions for germ growth. If you accidentally touch the screen with dirty fingers or a contaminated piece of food, the near-constant moist conditions can let bacteria grow wild. Eventually, that builds into a biofilm that can break off into the water stream and onto whatever is below.

If biofilm chunks aren’t the secret ingredient to your favorite recipe, follow this house cleaning secret: Clean your aeration screen by removing it and soaking in a diluted bleach solution once a week. Then let the water run for a few minutes after placing it back onto your faucet.

3. Car Dashboard

It makes sense that something with so many touch points (steering wheel, audio knobs, thermostat controllers, vents, etc.) would be on the receiving end of all the germs you and your passengers have on your hands.

But what can make this area extra gross might surprise you—mold.

It turns out the air sucked through the ventilation system can aerate mold and bacteria out on passengers or onto the dashboard itself. Since the dashboard is usually warm from the engine and sunlight, it’s a welcoming host for mold and bacteria.

Your best bet is to wipe down your entire dashboard, including the vent slats, with disinfecting wipes at least once a week. If you’re prone to allergies or asthma, you may want to clean your dash more often to keep the mold at bay.

4. Mobile Phone

This one might be a little less shocking, considering you may have heard for years that your mobile phone can harbor more bacteria than an average toilet.

That’s because it combines the two most likely sources of human germs—your mouth and your hands—into one area. Add that to the fact that most people plop down their phones without a lot of thought to what germs could reside on the surface. Also, many phone cases have grooves and crevices that are perfect hiding places for germs. It’s no wonder your favorite devices are such filthy cesspools.

But what may be surprising: how often experts now say you should clean your handheld devices. If you’re careful about handwashing and watching where you place your phone, you can probably get away with disinfecting your mobile phone a few times a week. (Use wipes approved for use on electronics.) If you’re less discriminating, give your device a daily wipe down to avoid serious bacteria, like staph and salmonella.

This advice is especially true if you’re using your phone (or tablet) in the kitchen to look up and follow recipes. In this case, wipe down the screen every time you wash your hands while making the meal. Sound too laborious? Use a cookbook, print out the recipe, or use a smart speaker to read the recipe aloud to you as you cook.

5. Vacuum Cleaner

It seems like the answer to a bad riddle: what makes things dirtier as it cleans? Vacuum cleaners.

They do a bang-up job of sucking up visibly grimy things like dust, hair, and food particles. But that can create a whirlwind of bacteria growth in the bag that can end up coming out the bottom. And the brushes (both the main brushes or rollers and the hose attachment brush) often contain E. coli and mold that you’re inadvertently spreading from rooms like the bathroom and kitchen to your living room and bedrooms.

The best ways to clean your cleaner? Opt for a bagless vacuum, as bags tend to promote more bacteria growth. (You can also purchase bags with antibacterial linings.) Open your bagless cylinder or bag compartment outside and throw the contents in the trash to avoid stirring up a cloud of bacteria. Then clean it out with a diluted bleach solution and allow to air dry after each use. Spray brushes with disinfectant after each use, too.

6. Gym Equipment

While working out regularly helps your health, the things you touch while doing so can make you sick.

A common place where germs hide is in polyester fabric, which is what most weightlifting gloves are made from. That leads to germs on every bar, plate, and free weight you use clinging to your gloves. So, be extra diligent in not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth when wearing them. Better yet, ditch the gloves to strengthen your grip and forearms.

If you’re more of a cardio person, you’re still at risk. Scary bacteria can hang out on your favorite cardio machine. To help protect yourself from possible illness:

  • Put a towel down on machines with seats.
  • Use hand sanitizer after using rowers, bikes, and other machines with handles.
  • Be courteous by wiping machines down after you use them.

7. All the Money (Purse, Wallet, Credit Cards, Bills, and Coins)

When it comes to payments changing hands, it’s not all about the Benjamins—it’s also about all the germs.

Paper money is just plain gross. It gathers germs from everything it touches, which is a lot of hands. And the surfaces of paper currency are fibrous, so it holds onto them. Researchers have shown that money (94 percent in one study) can carry viruses, skin bacteria, E. coli, salmonella, and even resistant staph.

If you choose to use plastic, you’re not much better off. Credit cards also rack up impressive germ collections. That’s because they’re also passed hand-to-hand. And all the nooks and crannies of a credit card provide hiding places for germs.

Given what you’ve just read, it’s probably not surprising that your wallet or purse are stuffed with germs. After all, that’s where you probably keep your money. And in the case of a purse, your mobile phone, too.

What can you do? You have to pay for important things like food. So, you can’t really avoid these hidden sources of germs. But you can wipe down your credit cards with antibacterial wipes. Same with your wallet and some surfaces of your purse. It’s harder to actually wash cash.

But the best thing you can do is wash your hands after contacting these items. And avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth while you’re shopping or after paying for anything with cash.

Clean Up the Hidden Sources of Germs

Scared yet? You don’t need to be. Identifying these hidden sources of germs helps you know where to focus extra cleaning energy. And using the house cleaning secrets you’ve read will help lessen your exposure to potentially harmful germs.

And it’s all about exposure. Being smart about where harmful germs are lurking is a good thing. But your immune system is also there to protect you. So, a combination of good cleaning practices (including these hidden sources of germs), and immune-boosting habits can help you stay healthy.

The old adage says, “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.” But there are other immune supporting foods along the aisles of the grocery store. Immunity nutrition is a popular target of today’s diet trends. And while a variety of wholesome foods are needed to create a balanced diet, some are particularly good sources of immunity nutrients.

Foods that support your body’s immune system are nutrient dense. That means they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other helpful nutrients. Beta-glucans, vitamin C, B vitamins, and zinc are some of the most important immunity nutrients.

They all work to protect your health. These nutrients support the function of immune system cells—like neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells. By supporting your natural defenses, immunity nutrition can help maintain your health.

It is important to get these nutrients in your daily meals. And the good news is each comes in a healthy, delicious package. Whether it’s red pepper, kiwi, chickpeas, or cashews, make sure you get immune supporting foods each time you go to the grocery store.

Fungi, Whole Grains, and Dairy: Beta Glucans

Mushrooms have famously been linked to immune health. But more foods than mushrooms contain beta-glucans—the nutrients responsible for mushrooms’ immune support. Beta-glucans are sugars found in the cell walls of fungi (like mushrooms), bacteria, and other plant material. They are also present in oats, other grains, and dairy products.

When you consume foods rich in beta-glucans, your immune system flourishes. Beta-glucans are immunostimulants, meaning they support the function and responsiveness of immune cells. These micronutrients support the normal activity of neutrophils, which help maintain your health.

Your immune response can be primed by molecules like beta-glucans. They train your innate immunity (your ancient immune system) to react to real threats with harmless stimuli. Now “awake” and alert to foreign triggers, your immune system is in a heightened state of awareness.

Macrophage (a type of white blood cell) activity is also stimulated by the presence of beta-glucans. Together (and with the help of beta-glucans) neutrophils and macrophages play an important role in maintaining your immune health.

And you don’t have to dig too deep to find beta-glucan-rich foods. Beta-glucans are large polysaccharides (large sugar molecules) that are added to foods to increase their fiber content. Many cereals, baking goods, instant oatmeal, and milk products are fortified with beta-glucans. Increase your awareness of dietary sources of beta-glucans so you can practice healthy immune nutrition.

Fruits and Veggies: Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. And it also works with your immune system to maintain your health. Neutrophils (yet another of the five major types of white blood cells) have a high concentration of vitamin C. They use it to reduce free radicals and other toxic oxygen species to protect themselves when they are out protecting your health.

The presence of vitamin C also triggers the activation—or maturation—of leukocytes.  These important immune cells are part of your body’s natural defenses that keep you feeling your best. Working in tandem with antibodies, leukocytes can direct other cells in your immune system. This essential function helps maintain healthy immunity.

They’re bright and vibrant, so foods rich in vitamin C are easy to spot when you are out shopping. Citrus fruits, colorful peppers, spinach, and broccoli are all excellent sources of this essential vitamin and antioxidant. You can make it a snack or a side dish. So, look out for your immune system and add vitamin C to your shopping cart.

Protein: B Vitamins and Zinc

This group of essential vitamins and a mighty mineral partner with your immune system to keep you healthy and feeling your best. B vitamins do this by supporting a healthy metabolism and helping to produce white blood cells. Zinc supports the development of immune cells and acts as an antioxidant—defending your body by destroying free radicals.

B vitamins are a class of their own. These eight immunity nutrients are commonly found in tuna, beef liver, chicken, and turkey meat. As mentioned above, they play an important role in a healthy immune system because they help your body manufacture white blood cells. B vitamins also support the creation of hemoglobin. This protein helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body.

Zinc aids in multiple immune system functions. In your body, zinc stimulates the production of immune cells. It also helps these cells initiate a proper immune response. Macrophages also rely on zinc to help them play their normal role in your body’s defenses.

Free radicals are no match for zinc, either. By helping to reduce toxic oxygen species, zinc can minimize free radical damage.

The essential mineral can be tricky to locate, though. Zinc is hiding in foods like oysters, crab, and lobster. But if high-priced seafood doesn’t suit your budget or taste buds, grab a box of healthy, whole-grain breakfast cereal instead. Many fortified and whole grain breakfast cereals contain a significant amount of zinc.

Eating immune supporting foods loaded with B vitamins and zinc help your immune system by supplying red blood cells with hemoglobin and increasing the number of fighter cells like leukocytes and neutrophils. Learn to rotate macronutrient choices so you get some variety while focusing on immunity nutrition.

Immunity Nutrients Shopping List

Immune boosting micronutrients can be acquired through healthy eating. If you have trouble locating the foods below, or avoid them for any reason, you may need some help supporting immunity. Nutritional supplements can also provide these necessary micronutrients for immune support. Supplementation can help your body stay topped off with the immunity nutrients of which you need more.

But start with this shopping list, which provides ample dietary sources of immunity nutrition. You should be able to find foods rich in beta-glucans, vitamin C, B vitamins, and zinc at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or in your own garden.

These nutrients are hiding in plain sight. All you need to do is eat and enjoy. Bon Appetit!


  • Whole wheat bread
  • High-fiber whole wheat cereals
  • Oats
  • Mushrooms
  • Seaweed
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Low-fat meat products

Vitamin C

  • Oranges
  • Kiwifruits
  • Grapefruits
  • Red peppers
  • Green peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach

B Vitamins

  • B vitamin fortified cereals
  • Liver
  • Chicken breasts
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt


  • Oysters
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Beef
  • Chickpeas
  • Cashews
  • Kidney Beans

Life is busy enough. Add a trip—even if it’s a vacation you need—or the scramble to get kids ready for back-to-school, and the busy-ness of life leaves you short on time. But that doesn’t mean you should skimp on one of the most important habits for your well-being: proper skincare.

You always hear about the many, many steps of a skincare routine—like it’s a race to add more complexity. That doesn’t always fit with your busy life. But believe it or not, there is such a thing as a simple skincare routine.

If you find yourself too hurried to make skincare a priority, try implementing these five tips to make a routine that can keep up with you.

1. Care for Your Skin from the Inside

The top skincare tip for busy people is to feed your glow from the inside. The better care you take of your hydration and nutrition, the fewer products you’ll need to use to make up for it later.

The golden rule for good-looking skin—especially if you’re traveling or spending a lot of time in the sun, heat, or on the go—is to keep yourself and your skin as hydrated as possible. Yes, this means drinking about 64 ounces (about two liters) of water a day.

But also avoid foods and drinks that dehydrate you or cause you to retain fluids: alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and salt. Beware: those cocktails from last night could have you waking up to dark circles and puffiness, and the salty take-out you had for dinner can leave you retaining fluids.

The easiest way to stay hydrated is to take a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go. Look for one that holds at least 32 ounces (or about a liter), or you’ll be looking for places to fill up multiple times a day. BPA-free plastic bottles are easy to find and durable. Aluminum bottles are lightweight and tend to keep your water cooler than plastic. Either is a good option.

If you’re traveling by air, remember to empty out any water before trying to go through airport security. Otherwise, you may end up having to leave your bottle behind.

For good skin nutrition, cut down on sugars and other simple carbohydrates. And add more lean protein and produce. Omega 3 fatty acids are also essential to maintaining moisture in the skin. So, toss some flaxseeds or walnuts on your lunchtime salad to get a quick boost.*

If you’re traveling, pay close attention to your in-flight or road-trip nutrition, particularly the sugar and sodium levels. Whole fruit and unsalted nuts are better options than trail mix, chips, or airline peanuts. Ask the flight attendant for herbal tea or water instead of soda pop, coffee, or alcohol. That’s because it’s easier for your body to get dehydrated at 30,000 feet (10,000 meters).

2. Keep it Simple

Be honest with yourself. Even if you’re curious about the benefits of a complex, double-digit-step skincare routine, are you committed enough to implement it on a daily basis? If the answer is no, don’t set yourself up for failure. You can still get fantastic results from a simplified skincare routine. The trick is to be consistent with whatever routine you choose.

First off, clean out your shower, cabinets, and bathroom drawers. Any products that are expired, have started to separate (that’s a sign that the product has spoiled), or that you haven’t used in the past few months have to go.

Now, it’s time for your simplified skincare routine to start your day (Those in bold are what a dermatologist would view as essential):

  • Wash with a gentle cleanser.
  • Quickly pat a light antioxidant serum into your skin to keep the look of aging at bay. Allow your serum to absorb into your skin.
  • If you choose to add an eye cream, now would be the time to lightly tap it into the outer eye area with your ring finger.
  • Apply a moisturizer.
  • Top with a sunscreen that’s a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher.

And you’re done with your morning skincare routine in five minutes—even if you add in the two steps not seen by dermatologists as essential!

At night, remove any and all makeup before cleansing. Follow with a more powerful skincare routine to take advantage of your body’s recovery mode during sleep. Also, add a thicker moisturizer or night cream. If you need extra moisture while you sleep, place a humidifier near your bed. To minimize puffiness, elevate your head by sleeping on two pillows.

And remember—while the skin on your face is delicate and needs the most attention, the skin on the rest of your body also needs some tender care. After showering in the morning, use a quick-absorbing lotion and then layer on your preferred sunscreen. Do not skip this step, even if the weather is bad or you’re in a hurry. Preventing sun damage is much easier than trying to correct it after the fact.

3. Choose Your Products Wisely

Your skincare routine should multitask as much as you do. Look for products that do double or even triple duty to save time and space in your bathroom. Here are some common product combinations to try:

  • If you have oily or combination skin and would prefer to skip the moisturizer in the morning, use a creamy face wash with hydrating main ingredients.
  • Several cleansers double as exfoliators because they contain ingredients to gently polish the surface of your skin, helping to keep your glow going strong.
  • In a pinch, you can skip the serum if your moisturizer contains excellent anti-aging cosmetic ingredients to help combat the look of aging.
  • Lots of sunscreens double as moisturizers these days. As long as it has high enough broad spectrum protection, there’s no need to use them in separate steps. Or, if you have dry and/or aging skin and prefer face oils to the serum and moisturizer, snag one with sun protection built in.
  • If you’d like sheer-to-light foundation coverage, look for a tinted sunscreen. It’ll tackle three steps in one: moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup.

4. Let Skincare be Your Travel Companion

If you’re traveling or constantly on the go, let your skincare goodies tag along with you. This is where the travel aisle of your favorite store can be your best friend. Whether you take a carry-on through airport security or not, load up on travel-size bottles or containers (three ounces or fewer). Then you can fill them up with your regular skincare products that are too big for your carry-on.

Not surprisingly, your most important sidekick is sunscreen. It needs to be close since you should reapply every few hours—especially if you get sweaty or spend time in the water. If you have the space, bring a separate SPF for your face and body. Grab a travel-sized spray can or a roll-on stick of sunscreen for your body, and use a mineral powder for your face to leave makeup undisturbed. It’s especially important to sunscreen up prior to a flight, as you’re closer to the sun’s skin-damaging rays.

If you’re going to spend several hours on a flight or in the car, load up on all things to help you refresh and rehydrate. For a quick shower alternative on a really long trip, bring cleansing cloths to wipe down your face, arms, and hands. Facial oil and hand cream or lotion should be applied—and reapplied, depending on the length of the flight—to your face and hands. (They also can help tame frizzy tresses or flyaways.) Facial mists are also good options. And on those overnight or international flights, take the opportunity to pamper your skin by using a no-rinse, hydrating sheet mask. Cleanse your face, apply the sheet mask, relax, and hydrate for 20-30 minutes.

Other items that make great travel companions: hand sanitizer, lip balm (bonus points for using one with SPF), and blotting sheets to combat extra shine.

5. One Day a Week, Don’t be in a Hurry

A skincare routine may seem like a chore most days, but try to let it feel like a treat at least one day a week. Depending on your skin type and your skin’s needs, try some or all of these luxurious treatments this weekend.

  • Exfoliate. Regardless of your skin type, you need to slough off dead skin cells once or twice a week to help keep your pores clear. Choose a product with ingredients that gently polish your skin, like a sugar scrub. If you go for a different exfoliant, scan the label for alpha hydroxy, beta hydroxy, or hyaluronic acids. Fruit enzymes like papaya and pineapple work if you have sensitive skin. You can also use an exfoliating mask, a peel, or exfoliating pads. Just remember that a little goes a long way—be gentle!
  • Give yourself a facial massage. Get circulation flowing to your facial tissue and release wrinkle-causing facial tension by giving your face a good rub. After applying facial oil or moisturizer, slowly massage it into your face, neck, and décollé. You can also use a jade roller to help the product penetrate deeper and increase circulation.
  • Get your mask on. Give your skin some extra love by using a mask at least once a week. There are myriad options for masking, so choose your treatment by assessing your skin’s needs. Looking a little dull? Try a brightening sheet mask. Minor blemishes popping up? Try a thicker charcoal or clay mask. If you’re feeling dry, pick a hydrating mask you can wear overnight.
  • Don’t forget your eyes. Reduce puffiness, dark circles, and the appearance of fine lines by giving your eyes special attention on the weekend. Undereye silicone masks are effective options, but can be a bit pricey. For a do-it-yourself alternative, place steeped chamomile tea bags or cool cucumber slices over your eyes for 10-15 minutes.

Whatever your schedule or lifestyle, you can (and should!) make time to commit to a daily skincare routine. It’s an important healthy habit. Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so taking care of it makes a big impact on your overall well-being. Keep a simple routine using multi-purpose products you’ll be on your way in no time flat. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.