Sleep Loss and Inflammation

By Sherry Baker  @SherryNewsViews
June 22, 2023
Sleep Loss and Inflammation

Not sleeping enough can contribute to disease-causing inflammation. Here's what you should know about the health effects of sleep loss and inflammation.

A cut on your hand will typically swell, turn red, and hurt. This type of inflammation is a natural, healthy response from your immune system to fight bacteria and infection. In time, most inflammation from a wound like a splinter or cut goes away as healing takes place. 

In autoimmune diseases, like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system attacks your body’s healthy cells, resulting in inflammation that can be long-lasting and painful.

In recent years, scientists have found another type of inflammation can take place inside your body without causing obvious symptoms — at least, not at first. But over time, this chronic inflammation plays a role in the development of serious diseases, from cancer and depression to heart disease


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Researchers have discovered some causes of internal inflammation. For example, Harvard investigators found obesity causes inflammation and may explain why being overweight raises your risk of type 2 diabetes and other ills. A University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) analysis of 72 studies also concluded that poor quality sleep is also linked to internal inflammation.

The researchers looked at the amount and quality of sleep reported by over 50,000 research subjects. They also noted the levels of three inflammatory markers found in the research participants’ blood:

  • C-reactive protein (produced by your liver in response to inflammation)
  • Interleukin-6 (secreted by immune system cells during acute or chronic inflammation)
  • Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (an immune system protein released in reaction to systemic inflammation)

The results showed two of those indicators of inflammation increased, depending on whether people had too much or too little sleep.

Specifically, increased levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 were noted in people who complained of insomnia or poor sleep quality. Those who tended to sleep more than eight hours also had increased levels of C-reactive protein. Sleeping fewer than eight hours a night was associated with increased levels of C-reactive protein, too.

The results suggest common sleep disturbances factor in inflammation. Previous studies have shown increased levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, the two inflammatory markers linked to less-than-ideal sleep, are known to raise the risk of heart problems, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Treatments to improve sleep quality and recommended length (7 to 9 hours) could help reverse internal inflammation and reduce the risk of inflammatory illnesses, according to Michael R. Irwin, MD, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, who headed the study.

Irwin believes it’s time for sleep disturbances and insomnia to be considered behavioral risk factors for inflammation in the same way unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are now considered risks for health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out insufficient sleep can play a role in the development and management of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Getting enough quality sleep can improve symptoms of many of those health problems — and it may help prevent them from developing in the first place. 


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June 22, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN