September 22, 2006
Lack Of Sleep Causes Inflammation, Immune Response

Chronic inflammation is now widely seen as a contributing factor to many diseases of old age. Any dietary or lifestyle choices that increase the amount of inflammation in your body is probably going to accelerate your aging and make you more prone to not just infections but chronic degenerative illnesses such as heart disease and arthritis. With that thought in mind consider that skimping on sleep increases the amount of inflammation in the body.

Researchers at UCLA are the first to show how sleep loss affects the immune system's inflammatory response and suggest sleep interventions as a possible way to address problems associated with inflammation and autoimmune disorders.

Reporting in the Sept. 6 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Internal Medicine, the research team finds that even modest sleep loss triggers cellular and genetic processes involved in the immune system's inflammatory response to disease and injury.

The findings increase understanding of sleep's role in altering immune cell physiology and suggest sleep interventions as a possible way to address inflammation associated with risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes and other autoimmune disorders.

"This study shows that even a modest loss of sleep for a single night increases inflammation, which is a key factor in the onset of cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis." said Dr. Michael Irwin, professor and director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

About one-third of the people in the United States have trouble getting a good night's sleep. The problem is more prevalent among people with chronic inflammatory disorders, including heart disease. Epidemiology studies link poor sleep with risk of chronic disease in some people.

Inflammation, with its accompanying redness and swelling, occurs when the immune system floods a diseased or damaged portion of the body with infection-fighting white blood cells that promote healing. However, a variety of immune system disorders can cause the body to turn on itself, sometimes causing inflammation that can damage healthy organs and tissues.

The UCLA research team conducted blood and DNA analyses of 30 healthy adults drawn during the day across three baseline periods and after partial night sleep deprivation. The results show white blood cells called monocytes produce significantly greater amounts of two disease-fighting proteins after a night of sleep loss, compared with amounts found after a night of uninterrupted sleep.

So the dog who insisted I let him out at 4 AM this morning helped accelerate aging. I explained this to him and he was complelely indifferent.

If you can see small changes you can make to your life to up the amount of sleep you get to an adequate amount then make those changes. You'll be better off in the long run.

Update: Does anyone know of scientific research into factors that increase or decrease your need for sleep? For example, if you are doing a lot of mental work and learning during the day does that increase the need for sleep because the mind needs to spend more time processing to form lasting memories of what it learned that day? Or do high fat diets increase the need for sleep as compared to low fat diets? Or does a diet high in vegetables decrease the need for sleep?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 September 22 06:01 PM  Brain Sleep

Lono said at September 23, 2006 6:54 AM:

Man - I hate our excessive need for sleep - but this study verifies a lot of common sense.

I really screwed it up this week - but if I want the possibility of living long enough to see the need for sleep completely abolished I guess I better start taking it a little easier...

I would be very curious to see the inflammation counts of those who use the newly developed class of drugs that allow one to go without sleep for many days while retaining high scores on cognetive reasoning.

I would assume they would have siginifcant inflammation - but we might all be pleasantly surprised.

Randall Parker said at September 23, 2006 8:18 AM:


I wondered the same thing while writing the post: Does use of Provigil (generic name modafinil and marketed in the US by Cephalon) cause inflammation? Have inflammation indicators been looked at in conjunction with its use?

So now I just did some searching. Yes, Modafinil causes inflammation:

Abnormal ejaculation, amnesia, asthma, chest pain, chills, confusion, difficulty breathing, difficulty urinating, dry skin, face muscle spasms, fainting, fever, gum inflammation, herpes simplex, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, joint difficulties, low blood pressure, loss of muscle coordination, mood swings, mouth ulcer, neck pain, nosebleed, stiff neck, tense muscles, thirst, tremor, vision problems, vomiting

I'm guessing the herpes outbreaks are the result of inflammation and so are the joint difficulties. Some of the other side effects might be as well. Two other sites mention digestive system inflammation and nose inflammation.

I'd like to see studies done on modafinil and anti-inflammation diets. Suppose a person eats lots of omega 3 fatty acids and berries high in proanthocyanin bioflavonoids and other polyphenols. Will this dampen down some of the inflammation?

More generally, I'm keen to know more about which foods and compounds dampen inflammation.

Bob Badour said at September 23, 2006 10:48 AM:

Exercise, injury and growth increase the need for sleep.

Tom said at September 24, 2006 8:20 AM:

>More generally, I'm keen to know more about which foods and compounds dampen inflammation.

fish oils
omega 3
curcumin (see post here)

Tom said at September 24, 2006 8:36 AM:

oh you already mentioned omegas, sorry
I donīt think you can take a pro imflammatory and then an anti imflammatory
isnīt the imflamation response supposed to repair the damage? of course it can go wild so then there is a need for anti imflammatories.
It seems to me you are making a damage and oposing repair (both by lack of sleep and with anti imflamamtories) ,but I am not a doctor.
btw provigil potentiates glutamate which is already a problem

Marvin Meyer said at September 25, 2006 10:38 AM:

Randall you bring up a good point and I question a social trend developing, especially in the NA auto markets:
I once read an interview with a psychologist specializing in stress disorders who said the human body is designed to routinely work at 50-per-cent efficiency so that people have resources available to deal with times of major life stress, such as a loved one's illness.

But the psychologist worried that new work demands were forcing people to give 110 per cent of themselves all the time. How, then, would they have anything left over to cope with life events

I am a facilities maint mechanic who frequently gets callins in the middle of the night, additionally head count reduction has now force shareholder values so the plant workers now are just starting to loose thier 5 and 6 week vacations and settle for 4 weeks, Monday to Friday work weeks are changing to include Saturdays, the Employment standards act in Canada states the employer can make the employee work 12 or 13 days straight! with only 2 consecutive days off. However with 14 days they must allow 6 days off.

This article will be refered to in the future I can see

Randall Parker said at September 25, 2006 4:50 PM:

Marvin Meyer,

You bring up a great subject: work place stress. I can only offer you my sympathy in the short term. But in the long term here's what I see coming: medical testing to determine employee stress levels. That'll provide the leverage needed to push for workplace changes that reduce work-induced stress.

Once stress levels become more cheaply measurable in real time (e.g. with nanotech implants readable by handheld devices) then people will be able to go up to their boss and say "I've been working for n days and now I'm over my legal stress limit". Then employers will be legally compelled to let workers go home and take time off.

Right now the effects of different workplaces and schedules are hard to measure. That will not always be the case. People will wear stress badges like nuclear power plant workers wear radiation badges.

Lono said at September 27, 2006 7:44 AM:


Ahh bummer - thanks for looking into it - well that settles that...

Guess I'll have to learn to manage my waking time a little more efficiently - at least until anti-inflammatories become a lot more sophisticated.

Maybe I'll work on my Lucid Dreaming again - run some night sims while I sleep. ;-)

(btw LD really works - I was surprised as anyone to find out it's not just New Age hooey)

Doug said at September 28, 2006 4:54 PM:

I have a decreased perceived need for sleep when I've taken all of my routine nutritional supplements consistently for two or three days. I don't mean to "pimp" any particular products, but to anticipate the reasonable next question, my supplement regimen is largely the "Top 10" list at the Life Extension Foundation's site, with the exceptions of their "Bone Restore" formula, their (quite cheesily-named) formula "Super Miraforte," and testosterone. I also take 4000 I.U. of vitamin D3 above the 800 I.U. I get from products in LEF's "Top 10" list, and I take a gram of tyrosine. Those last two are probably synergistic, since a metabolite of vitamin D3 is required for production of tyrosine hydroxylase, which I understand is the rate-limiting enzyme in the production of the catecholamine neurotransmitters. (I'll just mention that I don't think I'm consuming vitamin D3 to excess; I think I'm just replacing through supplementation what I would produce in my skin if spent most of my time outdoors, as my ancestors did.)

Randall Parker said at September 28, 2006 7:55 PM:


How long have you been on your vitamin regimen?

How quickly did you start to feel effects?

Doug said at September 29, 2006 6:34 PM:


I've been supplementing to one degree or another for about 10 years. I started taking a lot of LEF's most-recommended supplements perhaps a year and a half or two years ago; however, I took low doses and took even those irregularly. For a few months, though, I've generally taken full doses, and more frequently than formerly.

As for how long it takes to start feeling effects, if I'm careful to take the supplements with food, to avoid mild nausea, then I notice a mildly "high" feeling after an hour or so; it probably lasts two or three hours. If I've taken the supplements at least two out of the previous three days, then I seem to be able to get by remarkably well on just four hours' sleep. (Understand, I'm not recommending one short oneself on sleep; I have this bad tendency or habit, though, and I'm just reporting that the supplementation seems to keep my mood elevated and keep me alert when I do become short on sleep.) I think the supplementation, especially the vitamin D3, has helped me come back from a long depression; that's an effect that tends to be cumulative over months, and it's no panacaea. In the longest term, I think supplementation, somewhat low-glycemic, low-carbohydrate eating, and mild to moderate exercise have greatly reduced my aging.

Lord Forsyth said at November 29, 2006 10:58 PM:

Well, sorry to go on about my MS again, but I've always found that over sleeping made my symptoms worse, and that lack of sleep improved them. MS is an auto-immune disease where flare ups are associated with inflammation. I got very ambitious at one point and tried out a regimen of 4 hours sleep every night, supplemeneted with a nap here and there in the day. It was Ok in that my walking was a bit better, but it was not Ok in that I couldn't function or pay attention or do anything much 'cos I was so sleepy.... I have a feeling that I saw improvement because my muscles were switched off and therefore not so tight. Incidentally, I used to get quite drunk because it had a similar effect on my walking, improving it no end, I guess for the same reasons. Unfortunatly alcohol is not billed as the wisest thing to binge on so, because I could see the danger in relying on it to walk straight, I generally avoid it now. Shame.

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