Getting poor sleep, whether too much or too little, has been linked to a variety of health disorders. Research shows that it may also cause inflammation.
We have heard a lot in recent years about the poor health effects of a disrupted circadian rhythm. Getting too little sleep, or sleeping at the wrong times, can lead to a variety of health disorders from type 2 diabetes to coronary artery disease. According to several studies, getting too little sleep can also cause an increase in inflammation, which has been implicated as a cause of a variety of chronic diseases. However, getting too much sleep appears to increase inflammation as well.
Inflammation and Chronic Disease
Most people associate inflammation with infections and injuries. If a cut on your hand is inflamed, it means that it is infected and needs to be cleaned well. However, inflammation is your body’s reaction to any perceived threat to tissues and organs. In most cases, this inflammatory response is healthy and helps your body to both protect and heal itself. The problem is that this immune response in itself can cause health problems and disease, especially when it is occurring chronically.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of health disorders, from allergies to heart disease to pain disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. In many cases, it is difficult to determine exactly what is causing this chronic inflammation. However, sleep and circadian rhythm appear to play a role.
How Too Little Sleep Increases Inflammation
Chronobiology researchers have determined that too little sleep can contribute to chronic inflammation in several ways. First, sleep is when the body undergoes critical repair processes and flushes out toxins and metabolic wastes. Second, many of the hormones associated with sleep, such as melatonin, also function as antioxidants. Without adequate repair and rejuvenation, cells can become damaged over time, leading to high levels of the inflammatory molecules cytokines. Sleep deprivation in animals leads to the release of cytokines that in turn activates other immune molecules, causing an acute inflammatory response. Over longer periods without sleep, this causes chronic inflammation.
This may lead many people to think that more sleep is generally better for health and will reduce inflammation. However, studies suggest that just the opposite is true.
Is There Such Thing as Too Much Sleep?
Should we all be sleeping as much as possible to sustain good health? This also may be bad for long-term health. Many people have noticed that they feel bad after they “sleep too long.” There may be a biological basis to this observation. Research has found that when you sleep too long, which is more than eight hours for most people, your body releases many of the same inflammatory cytokines released when you sleep too little. In other words, too much sleep can be just as bad for you as too little.
Too much sleep and too little sleep are both bad for your health. So how much sleep should you be getting? For most people, the best number is seven or eight hours. In addition, it is important to sleep at the correct time, during the dark hours. Getting the wrong amount of sleep, or sleeping at the wrong hours, can affect human health in ways we are just beginning to identify.