Sleep & Inflammation: What You Need to Know

woman sleeping cozy

If you are health conscious or are dealing with any number of medical concerns in your family, you’re probably very familiar with “inflammation” and all of its consequences in the body. Chronic inflammation in particular has received more attention in recent years, as studies have recognized it as a major contributor to illness and autoimmune disease.

But what about the relationship between inflammation and sleep? This relationship is important to take note of, as it occurs between two of our most complex and fundamental body systems: the immune system and our sleep cycle. 

Knowing more about the effects of inflammation on your ability to get a good night’s rest can help you guard against the unhealthful inflammation that can lead to serious medical concern, such as heart disease and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. 

By understanding the link between inflammation and sleep, you can avoid tissue-damaging inflammation in the body and focus on promoting restorative sleep instead.

First, what is inflammation?

Inflammation is an innate biological response from the immune system that harmful foreign pathogens - such as toxins, bacteria, and viruses - have entered the body. To counteract these pathogens, the body works hard to fight off these harmful invaders and help heal itself from injury, thereby raising inflammation levels. 

When the immune system is in “fight mode,” the most common symptoms of acute inflammation include redness or swelling, fever, pain and stiffness, or fatigue. These are all signs that the body is working to neutralize some threat that it is facing. 

This response is actually essential to our health and wellness. It is only when this natural, protective response happens at the wrong times, or too often, that people can face issues like autoimmune disorders. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause damage to healthy cells, tissues, and organs, leading to chronic illness.

What are the triggers of chronic inflammation? Most often, environmental toxins, stress, and a poor diet. But sleep is also a major contributor to this type of inflammation in the body, which is why it is key to explore the link between the two for better overall health.

Regulated by the same biorhythms 

Interestingly, sleep and the immune system share a common regulator. We’ve all heard about “circadian rhythms” when it comes to sleep, but did you know these same biorhythms also impact the function of your immune system? 

When we sleep, circadian rhythms drive certain hormonal and physiological changes that are essential to health. These rhythms allow us to move back and forth along a continuum of sleep and wakefulness over the period of a day. Always, our circadian rhythms are working behind the scenes to keep our bodies on schedule. 

But when these circadian rhythms get out of sync, so, too, do our sleep cycles. This is because circadian rhythms also regulate the immune system, and with it, our levels of inflammation. If your circadian rhythms are disrupted at any time of the day, the function of your immune system will also be impacted. And if you’re prone to unhealthful inflammation brought on by stress or environmental toxins, you’ll be more at risk for diseases like cancer or metabolic disease.

Keeping circadian rhythms in sync

To make sure that your circadian rhythms are in sync, you should strive to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Since our biorhythms thrive on consistency, going to bed around the same time each night and waking up at the same hour each morning will reinforce your circadian rhythms. It will also help in reducing inflammation, promoting the healthy synchronization of both your sleep and immune function.

Another way to support your circadian rhythms is to listen to your body. If you regularly experience tiredness in the mid-afternoon (some might call it the “afternoon slump,”) your body wants a nap. This lull in energy is part of our natural circadian rhythms, and taking a brief nap (between 3040 minutes( can restore the body’s time clock. Otherwise, expending energy that you don’t have can lead to stress and even exhaustion, which will only push your inflammatory response into overdrive.

In order to make the most of a good night’s rest, it’s beneficial to understand the link between inflammation and sleep.If you haven’t thought about the make-up of your sleep environment, there’s no better time to reconsider the ways your bedding and mattress might be impacting your biorhythms. To learn more about healthy sleep habits, visit our blog.