Sleep health is vital to human immunity. Several studies have shown that insufficient sleep can enhance the body’s susceptibility to infection. Not only can sleep deprivation equate to a slowed response to pathogens but it can cause a breakdown of the immune system thereby driving the development of autoimmune disease.
One in four people experience some sort of sleep disturbance. As vital as it is, this is a big deal. When we sleep our bodies redistribute our energy resources. Instead of using energy to fuel your brain and muscles, that energy is used by the immune system to create new cells and clean the body of cells no longer needed. Immune cells settle into our lymph nodes while we sleep to prep for the next day of circulating through your body. Similarly, our brain also needs this time to recharge and rid itself of the days waste which can otherwise lead to inflammation (2). At night time our cortisol and adrenaline levels drop while our melatonin rises. Melatonin is the sleepy hormone that increases in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of our circadian rhythm and with sleep. Melatonin has actually been shown to possess anti-inflammatory abilities by reducing tissue destruction during inflammatory reactions. Thus, melatonin is able to reduce macromolecular damage in all organs (5). Contrary to melatonin, cortisol has been shown to cause inflammation. Prolonged exposure to stress leads to high levels of cortisol in the body. This alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory and immune response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to cortisol. So as the body heals, inflammation becomes the response to stress (6).
Sleep also helps with the regulation of hormones. During the day our hormones are prone to rapid changes frequently due to stress, excitement and anxiety. These changes affect how they communicate with the immune system. While we sleep the communication can flow in their natural patterns. Our bodies are able to take extra energy from your muscles and use it to maintain your immune system (4).
If you do not get enough sleep this leads to a drop in the production of molecules that counter inflammation. Less sleep equals more inflammation in the body. It also puts you at risk for getting sick with either a cold or flu because you are more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Even slight sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your immune system, setting off flare-ups. During sleep our immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which actually promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when we have an infection or inflammation. Lack of sleep will lead to a decreased production of these protective cytokines.
Delta sleep is the deepest form of sleep associated with delta waves. Delta waves are brain waves present during sleep stages 3 and REM. This form of sleep is greatest in children and declines with age. Delta sleep is when tissue repair and regeneration are at its peak (2).
Many patients with Lyme disease are never fully cured and end up with chronic Lyme disease which acts exactly like an autoimmune disorder. When the body is inflamed it cannot rest. The body is too busy fighting off the inflammation that it cannot settle. Lyme disease can cause neurotransmitter imbalances that create symptoms of insomnia, depression, fatigue and brain fog. So not only can lack of sleep lead to autoimmune diseases, but autoimmune diseases make it hard to sleep. This is a vicious pattern that is difficult to break. Since stress is a huge factor in affecting our hormones it is important to try to limit it and get the daily recommended amount of sleep necessary to refuel our bodies and prevent unnecessary inflammation.