Science has shown a definitive connection between quantity and quality of sleep and autoimmune disease prevalence. As scientists begin to learn more about some of the contributing factors of autoimmune disorders, it is becoming more clear that quality of sleep can greatly affect these health issues.
In addition, those who suffer from autoimmune disorders also often get caught up in the cycle of not getting enough sleep, further exacerbating the issues. What’s more, recent research continues to point to untreated sleep apnea as being a strong contributor to autoimmune issues.
Connection Between Sleep and Autoimmune Disease
If you are having problems sleeping at night, it may be a warning sign of an autoimmune condition. While short-term sleeping problems are generally nothing to worry about, long-term issues can be a contributing factor to the development of certain autoimmune disorders.
Medical researchers believe that problems with your sleep cycle may be a major contributing factor to autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. This happens because sleep deprivation hinders the ability of the immune system to function at optimal levels.
Additionally, the pain and inflammation that often characterize some of the most common autoimmune disorders make it more challenging to get a good night’s sleep. For example, it is not uncommon for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis to experience joints that are so sensitive that it may be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. Other disorders that may negatively influence healthy sleep patterns include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
How Sleep Apnea May Increase the Risk of Autoimmune Disease
Untreated sleep apnea has been associated with a risk for a variety of health conditions, including autoimmune disease. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder that happens as the throat muscles relax temporarily during the sleep cycle. As the airway begins to narrow, breathing is temporarily suspended during sleep. The go-to treatment for OSA is the use of continuous positive airway pressure, otherwise known as a CPAP machine.
A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia demonstrates that sleep apnea can boost the risk of developing an autoimmune disorder. The scientists examined four cytokines — proteins associated with autoimmune disorders. The study looked at the cytokines in three distinct groups of adults, including individuals without OSA, those with untreated OSA and OSA patients currently receiving treatment for the condition.
The results demonstrated that people with untreated sleep apnea displayed abnormal levels of the four studied cytokines. These results suggest that poor levels of oxygen supply and disruptions in sleep patterns may affect the body’s cytokine levels.
How to Establish a Healthy Sleep Cycle
The good news is that you are not powerless in your quest to establish a healthy sleep cycle. Regardless of whether you are looking to combat the symptoms of an autoimmune disease by getting better sleep or if you are trying to stave off the development of this type of condition through proper sleep, establishing a healthy cycle of rest can provide immense benefits for your overall health. Here are just a few ways that you can encourage a healthy sleep cycle.
Implement a Relaxation Ritual
You will be more likely to fall asleep faster if you send the signal to your body that it is time to rest. Creating a relaxation ritual prior to bedtime will encourage this practice. Good ideas include a warm cup of tea, a relaxing bath and some time with a book.
Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
A comfortable sleeping environment will go a long way in ensuring that you sleep well. In addition to keeping your bedroom dark and quiet, extra pillows may prove helpful if you suffer from joint pain as a result of your autoimmune condition.
Avoid Stimulants Before Bed
It is also a good idea to avoid stimulants at least a few hours before you are planning to go to sleep. This means that you need to cut the caffeine in the evening hours. While alcohol may put you to sleep quickly, you are also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night because it will disrupt your sleep patterns.
Limit Blue Light Exposure
Many people inadvertently sabotage their efforts to get good sleep by spending too much time on electronic devices prior to bed. Instead, it’s important to limit your blue light exposure in the hours leading up to bedtime.
If none of these natural sleep solutions work for you, your healthcare provider may be able to help. Medical solutions used to treat disruptions in sleep patterns include acupuncture, massage or medications.
Consult a Sleep Specialist
As a last resort, many people decide to consult a sleep specialist. These trained professionals can help to isolate the issue and provide you with the appropriate recommendations to improve the quality of your sleep.
Understanding the connection between sleep and autoimmune disease will empower you to make better choices for your overall health and wellness.