Adding to the ever-expanding body of evidence connecting sleep duration and sleep quality to health, a new study reveals a link between sleep deprivation and lupus risk for women. Published in Arthritis Care and Research, the new study is based on health data from 186,072 women obtained via the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS). Interestingly, this new study confirmed the association between sleep deprivation and increased lupus risk found in a 2006 study that used mice as its subjects.
The relationship between insufficient and poor sleep and autoimmune disease risk has been studied for years now, with scientists actively seeking deeper understanding of the mechanisms involved.
The Sleep Deprivation and Lupus Risk Link
The new study was conducted by a team of researchers affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not chronic sleep deprivation heightened the risk of developing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the most common form of the autoimmune disease lupus. The researchers reviewed data collected between 1986 and 2017 via the NHS and NHSII.
Theories concerning the impact of sleep deprivation on lupus risk were confirmed by the study. The data revealed that there was a distinct association between chronic sleep deprivation and elevated lupus risk. That association held true when the researchers adjusted for other factors, including depression, shift work and body pain, and also when reviewing the data utilizing a four-year lagged analysis approach.
Sleep Deprivation Defined
In the study, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers defined sleep deprivation as getting five hours or less sleep per night. However, the more generally used definition is simply failing to get the recommended amount of sleep for your age group.
For adults, the standard recommendation is a minimum of seven full hours, though typically, the amount ranges between seven and nine hours, as individuals can vary as to their sleep needs. Chronic sleep deprivation is generally defined as failing to get enough sleep for three months or more.
Mechanisms That May Be Involved in Autoimmune Disease Risk
A comprehensive review of theories and evidence linking sleep deprivation to immune-related disease risk, including autoimmune diseases, published in 2021, discussed the potential mechanisms involved in the elevated risks that numerous studies through the years have revealed. Sleep plays an important role in the ongoing healthy functioning of the immune system. Thus, it is logical that disruptions and deficiencies in sleep are going to have an impact on immune functioning and overall health.
Relating specifically to sleep deprivation and the increased risk of such autoimmune diseases as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis, the primary mechanisms that appear to be involved in that elevated risk have to do with excessive or improperly regulated inflammation or inflammatory responses. Sleep deprivation, for example, can lead to an inappropriately increased production of multiple pro-inflammatory cytokine types. It can also disrupt the ability of CD4 regulatory T cells to suppress excessive immune response. These sorts of malfunctions and disruptions can contribute to an increased likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease.
Sleep Deprivation Impacts Health in Numerous Ways
As interesting as the relationship between sleep deprivation and lupus and other autoimmune diseases is, there are numerous other ways that not getting enough sleep can negatively impact health. Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of a broad range of diseases and chronic health conditions. These include cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorders and certain types of cancer, such as breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. There is some evidence that chronic sleep deficiency may have a causative role in some neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, rather than being just a result of such diseases.
In addition to contributing to a host of physical ailments and diseases, as well as to increased risks of traffic accidents and workplace injuries, sleep deprivation can also have a negative impact on mental health and cognitive performance. Those who routinely don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of developing anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Sleep deficiencies can lead to a lack of motivation, irritability and a decreased ability to control emotions. Impulse control can suffer, as can memory functions and learning.
Sleep is a Matter of Health
It’s well past time for the understanding that sleep is a health issue, and an important one at that, to go mainstream. In order to enjoy optimal health, you’ve got to be getting good sleep – both duration and quality – on a regular basis.
The evidence is clear and plentiful that your sleep needs to be a health priority; something that you consider when negotiating or creating your work schedule and making various other lifestyle choices. When making decisions for children, such as extracurricular activities, make sure to consider the impact on their sleep schedule. After all, it really is a matter of health — both in the short-term and over the long-term.