7 Ways Inflammation Is Affecting Your Sleep
For those with a variety of medical disorders or injuries, inflammation is a common thread. And while it can be frustrating to deal with inflammation in your daily life, you may not realize that this issue may be the reason your nights are hard as well. The effects of inflammation on sleep are plentiful, unfortunately.
Understanding inflammation can be difficult because it is an umbrella term for a variety of physical reactions. When experiencing inflammation, your body is responding to either a real or perceived threat, like illness or injury.
"Inflammation is the body’s natural defense against damaged cells, viruses, bacteria and more," Dr. Josh Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, tells Bustle. "It occurs naturally to remove these harmful and foreign invaders from the body in an attempt to heal itself. Inflammation isn’t always bad — in fact, acute inflammation that starts quickly and disappears within a few days is actually necessary. But when you have chronic inflammation that lasts for months or even years, it means that your body can’t eliminate the trigger." And when this happens, your sleep can be disrupted.
Here are seven ways inflammation can affect your sleep, according to experts.
1. It Causes Pain
If you have inflammation in your body, you may be able to draw a line between that issue and the issue of having trouble sleeping because of pain.
"[Excessive inflammation may be] causing pain that interferes with sleep," sleep expert Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., tells Bustle. "For example, somebody with arthritis may find that the joint pain keeps them from sleeping." Treating the cause of the inflammation can make sleeping easier, so speak to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.
2. It Makes You More Stressed At Bedtime
The feelings you experience, especially around bedtime, aren't always "all in your head." Hormones and chemicals and inflammation could all be at play when you're lying awake.
According to Dr. Teitelbaum, the stress hormone cortisol should be at higher levels in the morning, and lower levels at night — or else it can be hard to fall asleep. Unfortunately, excessive inflammation can increase your levels of cortisol at night. This same issue might be why you feel wide awake in the early morning hours.
3. It Can Directly Affect The Sleep Center In Your Brain
Certain conditions associated with chronic inflammation can affect sleep on much more than a symptomatic level. Conditions such as fibromyalgia may actually affect your brain's sleep center itself.
The sleep center of your brain, called the hypothalamus, can be suppressed by chronic inflammation elsewhere in the body. This issue is especially present in fibromyalgia (which also causes widespread pain and brain fog), Dr. Teitelbaum says. If you believe this to be the case for you, seeing a doctor is an important next step.
4. You Can Have Trouble Moving In Your Sleep
A lot of inflammation-related sleep problems are related to situations of chronic inflammation. But even short-term inflammation, doctors say, can become a problem.
"Acute inflammation includes pain and swelling which can cause difficulties with falling asleep or waking with any movement of the limb during sleep," orthopedic sports foot and ankle surgeon, and expert in human motion, Dr. John Cory tells Bustle. This kind of discomfort should go away as your injury or illness heals, but can be incredibly difficult to deal with in the moment.
5. You May Have Less REM Sleep
With inflammation, you may find yourself able to sleep, but not quite as deeply as you could before the condition was present. This may because you aren't getting enough rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the part of the sleep cycle where you dream.
"[Inflammation] can lead to decreased REM sleep," Dr. Cory says. "REM sleep is vital for the body to release endorphins (pain relief), growth hormone and testosterone for healing." So you may not only feel more tired, but also have a host of side effects from inadequate rest.
6. You May Snore More
Inflammation isn't always caused by a major illness or injury; sometimes, it can be caused by inhaled allergies (like pollens and molds).
These allergies, and the inflammation they cause, can become an issue when it comes to sleeping quietly. These allergies can lead to snoring that might become so severe they obstruct your airways, Dr. Kathleen M. Riley, N.D., tells Bustle. "When the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen it triggers a wake up response." If you've been jolted awake by your own snoring, it might be time to invest in some allergy treatment, then.
7. You May Have Trouble Falling And Staying Asleep
Unfortunately, inflammation and sleep can become a bit of a viscious cycle. Inflammation can make sleeping more difficult, and sleeping less can lead to more inflammation.
“One way inflammation in the body can affect sleep has to do with cytokines — ‘inflammatory messengers’ which send signals anywhere in the body," pharmacist and wellness expert Dr. Lindsey Elmore, tells Bustle. "These cytokines increase our sleepiness, and serve as a defense mechanism during acute illness. However, if you have chronic inflammation and elevated cytokines, from any cause, that can lead to insomnia." Dealing with the root cause of your inflammation might make sleeping easier.
"Sleep disturbances such as waking up many times at night or failing to fall asleep have been shown to increase the levels of inflammation," Dr. Abdulghani Sankari, M.D., PhD., a pulmonologist at Detroit Medical Center, tells Bustle. So, when you sleep more, your inflammation will likely get better, too.
Whatever issues you're dealing with that are making it hard to sleep, it's important to talk to a doctor to examine why these things are happening. Everyone deserves a good night's rest.