Sleeping/exercising/getting teh sick
January 15, 2008 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Can a minor change in sleep schedule (as opposed to a reduction in sleep hours) make you sick? Or is her body just reacting badly to an increase in exercise?

My girlfriend wants to go to the gym before work. However, every time she has adjusted her sleep schedule to accommodate this, she's gotten sick. She's not really sleeping much less, just going to bed and waking up a couple of hours earlier.

I certainly think it's possible that her immune system is just taking a hit from the increase in exercise, so we'll explore the advice in this previous AskMe. But could this relatively small alteration in sleep patterns be a culprit as well?
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What about the possibility that something at the gym is making her sick? They're notorious breeding grounds for all kinds of nasties.
posted by iconomy at 6:28 AM on January 15, 2008

Changes in sleep patterns can have a pronounced impact on my immune system, whereas exercising has never had that impact for me. If your girlfriend is in coming into contact with large numbers of people (like in a gym) then it's possible the change in sleep patterns is making her more susceptible to catching something.

That being said, I always give myself a week to adjust to a new sleep routine, it takes my body that long to cease its railings about the injustice of it all. Maybe the best option would be for your girlfriend to prime her immune system by allowing the new sleep pattern to get established before she embarks on an excercise routine?
posted by LN at 6:30 AM on January 15, 2008

I've always heard that regular exercise boosts the immune system (as long as you don't over do it). If she is not missing any sleep, she may be reacting to something in the gym. What kind of sickness is she exhibiting? If it seems like allergies, she may even have an allergic reaction to a cleaning agent or perfume in the gym. I'm no doctor; I'm just thinking of similar problems I've seen people encounter with working out at gyms.
posted by aftermarketradio at 6:34 AM on January 15, 2008

This happens to me every time I start exercising, even if I'm not adjusting my sleep schedule. Without fail, I will start exercising and will then be sick for the next two weeks until I try again and it starts over. I do not go to a gym, I work out on a treadmill at home.

Doesn't answer your question - but I'll be interested in others' input on this thread.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:40 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Moderate exercise makes the immune system more active and able to fight off infections. Prolonged exercise depresses your immune response. I don't know how much she's exercising, but that might have something to do with it.

It could also be confirmation bias.
posted by OmieWise at 6:46 AM on January 15, 2008

I see you're in Houston - don't know if y'all get cedar fever like we do over in Austin, but this might be an entirely unrelated allergy episode. I was miserable starting on about the 31st with allergies.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2008

I always preach that when I exercise regularly, even at the expense of sleep, I never get sick, and that everybody should do what I do and they wouldn't feel so bad all the time.

However, even for always-well me, a *change* can mess me up. Change in sleep schedule is one thing that can do it. Also, starting exercising takes a toll. Or a significant increase in days per week. (When I really crank it up, I become ridiculously tired and start sleeping 10 hours/day, which then messes with the rest of my schedule, and can cause stress, sores, and sickness, etc. I know that's not what happening to your gf, but it's just another anecdote.)

Also, she's visiting a place where there are probably hundreds of people, many of whom already have the sniffles.

But I guess you specifically asked whether the small change in sleep time could be causing this, and for that I go back to my first statement. I have absolutely no scientific proof, but I believe that *anybody* can spare 30-60 minutes of sleep if they fill that time with exercise (and be healthier for it).
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:17 AM on January 15, 2008

Going to bed and waking up three hours earlier is not a tiny change, it's equivalent to jet lag from flying from LA to DC...the biggest culprit, I think, is that you're not sleeping as deeply because your body isn't expecting it. I would suggest changing the time when she sleeps first, going to bed say an hour earlier and sticking with that for 3-5 days, repeat until she gets to the desired time, and then adding in the exercise.
posted by anaelith at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2008

I have no opinion on where your gf's troubles originate. But about 10 years ago, I did some research for an article about the body's circadian rhythm. Short answer, according to the Harvard folks I interviewed, is yes -- changing your sleep schedule can affect your overall health.

Bear with me.

Basically, according to sleep researchers, the body's circadian nadir (the low point in our sleep cycle, and the point at which we experience the most REM sleep) is pretty much hard-wired (my word, not theirs) to occur at around 3 AM. Changing your sleep schedule by moving your sleepy-time and wakey-time -- but still getting the same amount of sleep -- is essentially the same thing as adjusting the hour hand on your body's clock. You can do that -- move the hour hand forward or backward -- but your body *still* will want its deepest sleep to occur at around 3 AM.

It sounds like a trifling matter, but it actually has some pretty serious health consequences for a lot of people. Shift workers are the best example. People who work night shifts have increased risk of cardiac and gastrointestinal problems -- even if they still get 8 or 10 hours of sleep. (Again, this is according to the Harvard dudes. I'm not making it up.)

So yes, it's totally feasible that a change in schedule can cause physical problems, even if the duration of your sleep has not changed.

2or3whiskeysodas, I recently had to scan the article in question into PDF format. It contains a lot more information on the possible problems, and it has some "suggestions" from experts on helping the body adjust. If you're interested, MeFi mail or email me and I'd be happy to send it to you. (Not self-promoting -- but I think it contains info that might be helpful.)
posted by mudpuppie at 1:38 PM on January 15, 2008

Anecdotal: When I wake earlier than my normal schedule by a few hours, I feel sick to my stomach. The idea of eating breakfast makes me even worse, and even getting up at my normal time I put off breakfast for a good three hours to combat the ill feeling I get.
posted by rhapsodie at 3:55 PM on January 16, 2008

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