This week was super-busy and super-stressful, and – surprise, surprise – I ended up coming down with a nasty cold. Here’s a look at what I did to “make” myself sick, i.e., what you should avoid doing so that you stay healthy:
1. Due to exams and a heavy workload at school, I got very little sleep for 3 nights in a row. I averaged about 5 hours a sleep per night, which is definitely not optimal. Click here for what WebMD has to say about how a lack of sleep may lead to catching more colds and flus.
2. I was very poorly hydrated this week. Due to my class schedule and clinic time, I often don’t have handy access to water or simply get too busy and forget to drink. I’m relying on my basic knowledge of physiology here, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that dehydration causes your mucous membranes to sort of “break up” a little, allowing more pathogens like cold viruses to enter your body. Hence, increased exposure to disease.
3. I exposed myself – to viruses and bacteria. (No, I wasn’t running around in a trench coat flashing people.) Not only do I have kids who come in contact with lots of viruses at school, but my daughter was actually sick with a cold last week, so, duh, I was exposed. In addition, as a dental student who comes in contact with surfaces touched by probably more than a hundred people in a day, despite frequent hand washing and practicing infection control with patients, I likely was exposed in day-to-day contact. Plus, there are quite a few of my fellow students who have been sick lately, so no wonder I ended up with a cold!
4. I went to spin class Monday morning and worked really hard. Now, while exercise is generally good for the immune system, it seems to me that I’ve read a few times that high-intensity exercise – like my spin class – can suppress your immune system for a short time. That shouldn’t generally be a problem, but considering my lack of sleep, dehydration, etc., it probably didn’t help.
5. I was really stressed out this week, with several exams, labwork, and homework to deal with. As you have likely heard, stress can also suppress your immune system response, which would have left me open to attack from the virus I’m dealing with right now.
Unfortunately, I had to write an exam today at 8:30am, so I went to school and did that, but then I came home and rested for the rest of the day. I sure didn’t want to pass this on to the patient I was scheduled to see this morning and I was just feeling BAD, but like so many people, I find it hard to take the day off when I’m feeling sick because I don’t want to be perceived as a slacker. Still, I know that staying home was the right thing to do. I’m hoping I feel well enough to go to school tomorrow, as I have two patients to see and would hate to cancel with short notice, but I guess I’ll wait and see.
So, here’s hoping you keep yourself healthy this fall! Be sure NOT to follow my example. Get lots of rest, stay hydrated, take it easy with your workouts if you need to, try not to be around sick people, wash your hands lots, and try to manage your stress!