If you’re aiming to live a healthier life, the importance of a sufficient, restful night’s sleep cannot be ignored! Sleep deprivation has direct and detrimental effects on immune function in general. You may have heard of the circadian rhythm and its involvement in sleeping patterns. The circadian rhythm, or what’s referred to as your “body clock”, is a 24-hour cycle that alerts the body when it’s time to sleep, regulating many other bodily processes as well. This internal clock cycles biological activities and gets disarranged when sleep is disturbed, consequently affecting the immune system, leaving you at greater risk for disease manifestation.
Sleep also helps the body redistribute and regenerate energy resources necessary for immune function and detoxing the brain as well. “During sleep, the immune cells get out of the circulation, settle in the lymph nodes and start getting ready for the next day of work.” . The same thing happens in the brain, which uses valuable sleep time to detox itself from all the toxic waste built up throughout the day to prevent inflammation from damaged cellular respiration. (4).
DID YOU KNOW: A lack of sleep not only causes more susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, it breaks down immune tolerance which can trigger autoimmune disease!
Many studies illustrate that sleep disturbances affect the body’s rhythm and damage immune function.
In a 2010 study Bollinger confirmed that sleep deprivation impairs immune responses by altering the circadian rhythm. They proposed that sleep prepares immune cells and provides timing signals for the circadian clocks, thus, chronic sleep disruption desynchronizes these clocks and deregulates immune responses. (1)
Lack of sleep affects immunologic functioning as it’s known to be a restorative period for bodily functions. Cytokines are regulatory proteins released by the immune system to generate and assist in immune responses, and they are found to be elevated in people with chronic conditions.
In their 2007 literature review Motivala suggested that the immune system interacts with sleep processes. Just like with chronic stress, they found an association between high levels of cytokines and poor sleep. (2)
On the same note, in this 1995 study Uthgenannt examined the effects of sleep on cytokine release in 13 healthy men. Subjects spent 2 experimental nights in a sleep laboratory and allowed to sleep 3.5 hours at different times. Blood was sampled and sleep patterns recorded. The results indicated that reduced sleep increased cytokine production. In summary, poor sleeping patterns are associated with the overproduction of cytokines as shown by an overactive immune response. (3)
At the same time, poor sleep has been shown to raise C-reactive protein levels, which represents a marker for inflammatory conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging.
In 2004 Meier-Ewert studied the effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. Samples of CRP were collected for consecutive days. In experiment one, 10 healthy adult subjects stayed awake for 88 continuous hours. In experiment two, 10 subjects were allowed to sleep 8.2 h (control) or others 4.2 h (partial sleep deprivation) of nighttime sleep for 10 consecutive days. The CRP concentrations increased during both total and partial sleep deprivation states, but remained stable in the control condition. In addition, blood pressure and heart rate increased across the board in the deprived groups. (4)
Research indicates that sleep disturbances increase acidity levels and chronic inflammation evident by an elevation in C-reactive protein levels. In summary, sleep deprivation alters the immune systems regulatory functions at many levels, creating the likelihood for the development of many disorders.
1- Bollinger, T., Bollinger, A., Oster, H., & Solbach, W. (2010). Sleep, immunity, and circadian clocks: a mechanistic model. Gerontology, 56(6), 574-580.
2- Motivala, S. J., & Irwin, M. R. (2007). Sleep and Immunity Cytokine Pathways Linking Sleep and Health Outcomes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(1), 21-25.
3- Uthgenannt, D., Schoolmann, D., Pietrowsky, R., Fehm, H. L., & Born, J. (1995). Effects of sleep on the production of cytokines in humans. Psychosomatic medicine, 57(2), 97-104.
4- Meier-Ewert, H. K., Ridker, P. M., Rifai, N., Regan, M. M., Price, N. J., Dinges, D. F., & Mullington, J. M. (2004). Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 43(4), 678-683.