Understanding the Link Between Inflammation and Sleep
One of the essential components of life – besides food – is sleep. In fact, sleep is considered more important than food, because it helps the brain and the body recharge and heals at the end of a day. Without sleep, the nerve cells in the brain cannot recharge, and the bodies cannot replenish the energy lost during the day. Unfortunately, a large section of the global population suffers from sleep disorders. From chronic insomnia to sleep apnea, there are various kinds of disorders that keep people awake at night and make them sleepy during the day. The number of people who cannot sleep at night is on the rise, and the remedies are often short-lived.
Stress happens to be one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation. When a person is stressed, the brain works overtime, not stopping even at bedtime. This prevents the person from relaxing and falling asleep. Unless the brain goes into rest mode and becomes calm, it is difficult to fall asleep. Sleep is critical for various important functions, from proper memory and mood to productivity and performance, to health. Disturbed sleep has been found to cause stress, accidents, reduced productivity, and impaired cognitive functioning. Chronic sleeplessness can also lead to other ailments.
There are many treatments to reduce sleep disorders and promote better sleep, but they aren’t long-lasting. Thus, scientists are trying to understand the reason behind sleep in order to better treat sleep-related disorders.
Several studies have found that sleep is an extremely complex process and this has made it difficult to identify the mechanisms that regulate sleep. But newer research has found evidence that inflammation is responsible for sleep regulation, and those with greater inflammation have disturbed sleep. This is also the reason why sleep is difficult during illness and infection. Those with sleep disorders have been found to have a higher level of inflammation. People who have diseases such as diabetes, cardiac disease or autoimmune disorders also have disturbed sleep because these diseases increase inflammation. People with increased inflammation also include the elderly and veterans, and that’s the reason why they have more sleep difficulties than the general public.
However, inflammation is also necessary for sleep. Inflammation occurs when small proteins called cytokines allow cells in the body to communicate with each other. Some of the cytokines are pro-inflammatory and help in sleep regulation, and other functions such as mood, performance, cognition, and fatigue. These pro-inflammatory cytokines increase in the brain during the loss of sleep. However, it isn’t yet known what is responsible for the mechanism of these cytokines. One theory goes that pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced by inflammasomes, which are protein complexes formed in the brain. It has also been found that inflammasomes are responsible for regulating sleep to a great extent. Inflammasomes are responsible for increased sleep after sleep loss or illnesses.
Although more research is needed to find out in greater detail the role of inflammasomes in sleep, it should be remembered that not all inflammation is bad. In fact, inflammation is necessary for various normal physiological functions and responses to infection. For instance, it is inflammation in the body in response to an infection that helps in identifying ailments and helping the body heal. Inflammation is an important part of the immune system. Therefore, without the inflammasomes, the body won’t heal, and the immune system will not be able to find out infections in the body that need to heal. Normal level of cytokines is needed for proper sleep. But when inflammation is chronic because of enhanced production of cytokines, sleep disorders arise.
If you have any inflammatory disease, like arthritis, a sore back, or anxiety, you are more likely to stay awake when you should be sleeping. Food sensitivities and intestinal disorders have been found to increase the production of cytokines, leading to inflammation and sleep disorders. Several other factors may also be responsible, but they need more research.
On the other hand, poor sleep can lead to inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease. Sleep disturbances such as waking up many times at night or failing to fall asleep have been shown to increase the levels of inflammasomes, and they are linked to chronic diseases like hypertension, heart problems, and type 2 diabetes. Sedentary lifestyles, a diet high in fat, and lack of sleep can increase the risk of inflammatory diseases.
If you have any sleep disorder, consider finding out if you have any inflammation anywhere in your body and then slowly try to cut out the factors that lead to the inflammation. Once inflammation is in normal levels, proper sleep will be restored.