Sleep disturbances and disorders are often linked to the development of autoimmune diseases like type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation serves as the connecting link as it causes autoimmune diseases and sleep deprivation increases inflammation. Though the link between the two isn’t completely understood, we know that sleep enhances immune responses and without it, the body is left to play catch up. Despite these challenges, you can take steps to improve the quality of your sleep.
Sleep and Immune System Health
If you get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep, you’re not just losing sleep, you’re losing the ability to fight disease. On an average day, it’s while you sleep that your immune system gets to work making antibodies and infection-fighting proteins that are then transported to your lymph nodes. Some of these proteins act a
s sleep enhancers that deepen your sleep while your immune system recharges.
A lack of sleep limits the immune system’s ability to fight off infection. Sleep problems can be further complicated by the inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases.
The Sleep Cycle, Inflammation, and Autoimmune Disease
Inflammation, which lies at the heart of autoimmune diseases, reacts to a lack of sleep too.
A recent study done at Northwestern University linked an excess of a genetic factor called NF-kappa beta (NFKA) that’s present in autoimmune diseases to the body’s circadian rhythms. NFKA actually, “alters the core processor through which we tell time.” Your body’s circadian rhythms, the biological and physiological patterns that repeat in a 24-hour cycle, rely on the same pathways as NFKA and too much of it alters the body’s ability to correctly time certain functions, including the sleep-wake cycle.
But, sleep deprivation serves to cause further inflammation too, leading to fatigue and malaise. The body is simply trying to reach a resting state where the immune system can address inflammation. However, with a disease that causes more inflammation, the results are sleep problems that range from daytime sleepiness to sleeplessness at night.
How to Improve the Quality and Quantity of Your Sleep
If you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease, sleep may already be elusive. However, the quality of your sleep is also responsive to environmental and behavioral changes. You can increase the length and depth of your sleep by:
Eating Healthy, Regularly Spaced Meals: Meal timing also plays a role in your sleep cycle. Try to eat a healthy balance of complex carbohydrates and protein, and eat your meals at roughly the same time each day. If
you can, avoid heavy, high-fat meals close to bedtime.
Regulating Your Bedtime: A consistent bedtime strengthens your body’s response to your circadian rhythms. The brain will start to release sleep hormones in anticipation of your schedule.
Turning Off Your Screens: The light emitted from some electronics falls on the blue wave spectrum, the same spectrum as sunlight. Consequently, it can suppress sleep hormones. To keep your sleep schedule on track, t
urn off your devices two to three hours before bed.
Talking with Your Physician: Poor sleep quality and sleep disorders are not uncommon amongst those with autoimmune diseases. Talk with your physician to determine if some of your sleep issues may stem from an underlying sleep disorder. There many home treatments available the can help you get the rest you need.
Anyone can improve the quality of their sleep whether they have an autoimmune disease or not. With time, effort, and consistency, you can develop the healthy sleep habits that support your immune system health so you can live a full, active lifestyle.
**Stacey L. Nash is a Seattle area writer for Tuck.com whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. With a degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound, she helps put sleep into the forefront of the health and wellness conversation. When not researching and writing about sleep, she spends time with her husband and four children on their heavily-wooded, twelve-acre piece of heaven.
** Tuck is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NBC News, NPR, Lifehacker, and Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.