Sleep and Immunity

Plane, Trains and Automobiles – What happens with jetlag?

At the risk of dating this blog, the risk of jetlag affecting my sleep anytime soon is zero due to the international travel restrictions for COVID-9. However, let us assume that things will return to ‘normal’ (let’s hope we improve on what we had before prior to COVID-9) and we can embark on international travel for work and pleasure. As we travel laterally following the latitudinal lines of the planet will we be crossing the longitudinal lines and entering different time zones. For me being in Sydney – Australia, I am (depending on the daylight savings) either +9 or +11hours Greenwich Mean Time. So, for me to travel to London (Greenwich) would mean a 9 or 11hours discrepancy in my routine (depending on the time of year). Now, 11 hours is a shocker of a time difference meaning that when my body clock is telling me I should be asleep yet the clock on the wall is telling me that it is the morning. Your natural clock and wall clock are upside down with each other. However, the good news is that the overriding dictator of body clock governance is daylight. So, if I were to spend enough time in London, I would be receiving signals from the sun (if there is any) that my environment has changed and it begins to influence my internal clock. As a rule of thumb for every hour of the time difference, it will take a day to acclimatise. So after 11 days in London, I should have acclimatised to my new environment – ‘should’ being the operative word in this sentence, as it’s assuming there are no other factors such as coffee, late-night socialising, drinking, blue screens also interfering with the natural transitioning to the new time zone.

West Versus East

Travelling in either direction I’m going to feel jet-lag, however, it may be somewhat easier for me to acclimatise travelling west from Sydney as it requires me to stay up later rather than go to bed earlier in my new environment…it’s a small win but a win nonetheless…in saying that it’ll take more than that to get me to travel to gloomy ol’ London. Lastly, given it takes 11 days to acclimatise to London time zone but it’s a two-week holiday – you have to ask yourself….is it worth it?…..Particularly when there’s no surf in London. Sorry, Mum!

Don’t take it for granted.

Just because you do it every day doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

I’ve been doing it every day now for 44 years and I’m always mindful of ways to improve my routine. Be smart about sleep, cherish it, foster it, love it because if you don’t it’ll bite you in the ass. How often has your GP enquired about the quality and quantity of your sleep when you go for a visit…hmmm yah thought so. Yet sleep disruption is the common denominator in neurological diseases, as well as psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, bipolar but it is very rarely the prescription. I’m not saying that it’s the cure-all solution but it’s a bloody good place to start and requires zero output.

Having impaired sleep due to poor routine you could be flirting with dementia. Sleep is when the body does its rest and restoration work and this occurs in the brain as well. During sleep, the brain rids itself of metabolic waste – through the brain lymphatic system. If poor sleep is left unchecked and not corrected then the brain can build proteins which are not shaped correctly, and can cause death to brain cells…..A telltale sign of dementia. The message needs to be – do not take your sleep for granted!

Don’t be discouraged from going to bed first in the house. Be the ‘boring’ one or the “grandma’ slipping off to bed before everyone else …chances are you live longer than them too!

Even if you exercise regularly, eat like a champion, and meditate like a Buddhist, if your sleep is sub-optimal you could be setting yourself up for neurology disease. Don’t short change your health by not getting enough sleep and/or undo all the good you’re doing during the day.

Sleep and Cancer

I’ve been explicit and alluded to the powerful influence that sleep will have on our health. One aspect our physiology that will determine our health is our immunity. It’s been noted through studies that our body’s innate immune response is thwarted when the host (the human) has got insufficient sleep. Part of our natural immunity is our natural killer cells, which is a great name by the way, and they do a fantastic job at identifying and destroying foreign invaders. If they are given the right environment that is. A study by Dr Michael Irwin on healthy young males demonstrated that those subjects exposed to 4 hours sleep had a reduction in their natural killers by 70% compared to their counterparts who slept for 8 hours. This is astonishing!!

If that alone isn’t enough to kick us up the butt and pay more attention to our sleep routine I don’t know what will. Our killer cells go into bat against malignant cells, protecting us against cancer, and so with a dramatic drop in their presence after one poor night’s sleep, it is a worrying state of affairs if an individual has a week, a month, years of sub-optimal sleep.

Studies are showing a link between shift workers who, by the very nature of their jobs, have a disruption to their circadian rhythm but also impaired sleep will be a higher risk to developing various cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. The data around this phenomenon is growing and the evidence is damning, so much so that some countries are awarding compensation to workers in industries such as nursing.

For years I have written and talked about the path to health is to live a low-inflammatory lifestyle, (“yeah ad nauseam Scott” I hear you mutter under your breath) so this link between poor sleep and cancer risk is of little surprise. Insufficient sleep gives rise to a situation of imbalance. Our two modes of existence are either ON or OFF characterised by our sympathetic and our parasympathetic nervous system, respectively. Sleep allows and facilities the OFF – marked by restoration, cell cleansing, detoxification etc. However, insufficient sleep ensures the ON mode is on too much. It’s when we operate in this mode that we incur inflammation – which when in the correct dose is beneficial and normal. Being ON is like having the choke pulled out on your car, for anyone old enough to remember manual chokes, or revving an engine unnecessarily – it leads to mechanical complication and troubles. This imbalance is compounded by coffee, stress, exhaustive workouts and is the cornerstone to systemic inflammation.
What is systemic inflammation? A shit show for your health.
Cancer, being the little turd that it is, can and will use the inflammatory factors (from the chronic inflammation) to feed itself. So, focusing on reducing inflammation in your day to day is paramount for immunity.

Make this your MO!

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