Here’s why sleep & inflammation are deeply connected
Inflammation is a side effect of many diseases, conditions, and chronic pain. There’s acute inflammation, which is what you experience when you have an infection caused by a virus or bacteria that resolves within a few weeks. Chronic inflammation is a long term inflammation or an inappropriate immuno-response seen in auto-immune disorders. Chronic inflammation is a health concern.
Chronic inflammation has been shown to cause heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes, and many other health conditions. The reason there is such a strong link between chronic inflammation and chronic disease, pain, and other conditions is that the immune system over time begins to attack and destroy healthy tissue leading to these chronic illnesses.
One of the contributing factors to chronic inflammation within our control is sleep. Sleep allows our immune system a chance to reboot. If you think of our brain as a computer, sleep is no different then a restart or turning the computer off and back on again. But instead of waiting 10 seconds to reboot, our bodies and brain need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Interestingly, too much sleep also triggers inflammation throughout the body.
Unfortunately, inflammation creates this negative spiral between sleep and symptoms associated with inflammation. A common occurrence for people with pain, the inflammation in the joints keeps them from sleeping at night. This further agitates the inflammation and may over time lead to other health conditions that the individual wasn’t suffering before the chronic inflammation began.
This negative loop may eventually lead to more serious sleep disorders like chronic insomnia which may need to be treated medically. If you are experiencing a lack of sleep, whether, from a chronic condition or pain or stress, there are things to implement to help improve your potential for sleep.
Sleep Routine - set a specific time you will get in bed every day, weekends included. Allow yourself the chance to achieve the 7-9 hours of sleep. Our bodies crave routine, see my other posts on routine building here and here.
Cool & Dark environment - research has shown that humans sleep best in dark, cool environments. If you have the option to lower your night time thermostat to 60-67F degrees if you don’t use fans to keep cool air blowing over your body while you sleep. Invest in good blackout drapes to block out all light.
Skip the Afternoon caffeine - Caffeine, other stimulants, and alcohol all disrupt our body’s natural rhythms and cycles. If you are suffering from a lack of sleep for any reason, this is a great place to start to help your body naturally power down in the afternoons and evenings.
Only Sleep in your bed - This is a rule I learned many years ago from Feng Shui - only use your bed for sleeping related activities. There are actually many rules associated with the bedroom and sleeping in Feng shui but this one was important to me. At the time I was in graduate school and working on projects around my full-time job and two part-time gigs. That means no breakfast in bed, no late-night snacking, no internet surfing. It made a world of difference, it's been more than a decade and I still follow this rule and I average 7-8 hours of sleep every night, good restorative sleep.
Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these tips for sleeping and how they worked out for you.
If you have been enjoying our series on inflammation, join our 5 Day Challenge: Naturally Reduce Inflammation. You will learn even more about eating to reduce inflammation, mindful practices, exercise, and sleep. Challenge starts June 8th, don’t wait to sign up!