Just last week, as I was tucking my feline confidant, Lulu, into her snug bed; rubbing an occasional belly showing my unending love (and hoping not to get scratched in the process - don't let the cuteness fool you, those claws are razors!)...my pet turtle, Sheldon, looked at me as if saying, "Hey, where's my bedtime story, mate?". But I found myself curious, what if animals sense the importance of sleep on a level we humans are oblivious to? After all, sleep seems to be their favourite pastime; at least for Lulu, in between her hunting sessions.
So, what on earth does sleep have to do with sickness? As a blogger with a healthy interest in well-being, and still slightly startled by the thoughtful gaze of Sheldon, I decided downright, "It's time we dived into this!" Here's the inside scoop.
Stand back, fellas! We're venturing into the dense jungles of neuroscience. Sleep, as bland as it may seem compared to our waking lives, is anything but idle. From memory consolidation to the rejuvenation of our immune system, sleep plays a crucial role in our overall health. It sometimes feels like we humans have drawn the short straw in nature’s lottery – a full eight hours of our day lost to sleep, while Lulu and Sheldon can nap on demand! Don't we wish!
During our time in the land of dreams, our body runs maintenance. Our brain sorts out all the information gathered during the day, tidying it up for easy access later, like a dedicated librarian. Muscles relax, tissues repair, and our immune system gets a boost. Humans are biologically wired to sleep, so would skipping it regularly make us more susceptible to falling sick? Let's investigate further.
It's funny to imagine, but picture this - the brain controls everything in our body, yet it can't trust us to stay awake all the time. It has concluded that we need to take a prolonged time-out (sleep), even when we believe ourselves to be productive night owls, neglecting our necessary recovery.
Chronic sleep deprivation (anything less than seven hours per night is widely considered as such) triggers a stress response in your body akin to that of physical stress or injury. Agreeably, pulling an all-nighter can feel like getting tackled by an Aussie rugby player. This stress response suppresses our immune system's activity, rendering us more susceptible to illness and disease. The ‘canary in the coal mine’ of our health, the immune system, is adversely affected, making us an easy target for every passing flu bug or infection.
Sleep and the immune system - they're like a long-standing sitcom duo. Can't seem to function without the other! Lack of sleep disrupts the functioning of the immune system, which behaves like a complex network of soldiers, patrolling our body for foreign invaders. T-cells, specifically, are our warriors that contribute massively to our immune response. Missing out on sleep can curtail these vigilant defenders, leaving you wide open to infections and viruses.
As contradictory as it may seem, while you are cozied up under your duvet, your body is at war. Research has found that certain disease-fighting substances are produced and released during sleep. Lack of sleep may affect the production of these protective substances, leaving our body’s defenses lower. Flu season becomes a game of dodgeball where you are the primary target!
Your relationship with sleep may not have been the romantic moonlit walk by the beach, but it's never too late to rekindle that bond. Like a dedicated barista crafting the perfect cup of coffee, your approach to sleep needs attention, care, and consistency. Developing a sleep schedule, limiting exposure to screens before bedtime, and creating an environment conducive to sleep are all steps towards better snooze-time. The starry night may appear enchanting, but make sure you've had your holistic journey to the world of dreams!
Consider setting up an evening wind-down routine to signal your body it's nearing bedtime. Even Lulu has a routine of her post-dinner play session, always followed by a thorough grooming session, before she flops down for her nocturnal z's. We humans can take a tip from our furry pals and actively prepare ourselves for rest.
Now, before you doze off into your lovely nap, thinking sleep is the one-stop solution to steering clear of sickness, hold on a minute! Much like how Lulu wouldn’t rely solely on her luxurious fur coat to win an award (she has got a charming personality up her kitty sleeve as well), sleep isn't a standalone solution. Diet, exercise, mental well-being, and regular check-ups also contribute to a well-functioning immune system.
Even though we've explored how sleep and sickness are intricately linked, it's essential to remember that while sleep can strengthen our defenses, it’s still part of a more extensive health package. Consider it an essential puzzle piece, but not the whole picture.
So there you have it, mates! A deep dive into the mysterious world of sleep and its relation to sickness. Now, if you'll excuse me, Sheldon is giving me the ‘turtle eye’ again. I suspect it's time for his bedtime story. I think tonight I'll tell him a version of this little investigation we had, "Once upon a time, in the world full of awake beings...". Goodnight!