Do you ever wake up in the morning with a fatigue that simply doesn’t make sense? Waking up with achy muscles or tender joints may feel like you slept in the wrong position. It may be that simple, but for a lot of people, it isn’t. Tiredness, sore body parts and an inability to focus during the day are all ways that your body is trying to tell you something.
Staying up late to have fun or get stuff done may seem to work out fine when you’re young. As you get older, it can catch up with you. If you’re perpetually under-rested, your body can respond by ramping up to fight imaginary enemies. You know this response as inflammation. Chronic inflammation can wreak all kinds of havoc on your body, from diabetes and high blood pressure to autoimmune diseases. Once you can tell how lack of sleep is putting your body at battle, you can work to find a peaceful solution.
Symptoms of Sleep Loss
It is easy to tell yourself that you don’t really need that much sleep. After all, you know at least a few people who survive just fine on six hours a night. Experts know that bodies are different, and what counts as plenty of rest for one person is an hour or two shy for another. This has to do with your unique body, your level of activity during the day and the quality of sleep you get. If you have a pattern of poor sleep, you might not even realize it’s happening. Here’s what to look for:
- Difficulty getting to bed or waking up, even on a regular sleep routine
- Increasing dependence on caffeine or other stimulants
- Trouble concentrating on work or relaxing pursuits
- Lack of energy throughout the day
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times
Even if you think you’re getting adequate rest, these symptoms are an indication that something about your sleep needs to change.
What Is Inflammation?
One thing that lack of sleep can cause is inflammation. Inflammation basically describes a swelling in a localized part of the body. It’s related to the body’s attempt to heal from injury or fight infection. If you fall and skin your knee, it may get swollen. The scab could fill with pus to try to prevent infection from the bacteria in the wound. You give it some rest and extra care, and it will often heal on its own.
Inflammation in the body can be more difficult to understand. You can’t see inside your skin, so you can’t identify a wound. Depending on the location, you may notice some obvious symptoms or none at all. This is why inflammation often goes undetected until it causes other more obvious problems in the body, like diabetes or heart disease.
Lack of Sleep and Inflammation
If you know that inflammation is a response to injury or infection, you might wonder how sleep can possibly play a role. Imagine that monster you were convinced hid in the closet when you were a child. Even though there was no threat, your body thought there was a monster and acted accordingly. Sometimes, the body triggers inflammation as a response to an enemy that isn’t actually there.
Many studies show that not getting enough sleep, or having a lot of sleep disturbances, can make your body trigger the production of proteins that increase inflammation. In the absence of a genuine threat to target, that inflammation can turn on your own organs.
Signs of Inflammation in the Body
If you have ever known someone who got appendicitis (a common disease of inflammation), you know that inflammation can be serious. Many conditions can cause swelling in the body. Inflammation is never normal, but it can be a natural reaction to infection or injury. If you are experiencing inflammation, you may notice some or all of the following signs:
- Fatigue that is not improved by rest
- Achy muscles or joints
- Tenderness close to the inflamed body part
- Swelling or redness
When the inflammation is located in your chest or abdomen, you may have no idea where it’s coming from. Although some effects of inflammation can take years to accumulate, others (like appendicitis) happen very quickly. This is why it’s important to take it seriously, and seek medical attention when you first notice it.
Effects of Chronic Inflammation
Although inflammation can start to cause issues for you at any time, prolonged inflammation pays cumulative effects. Imagine having a swollen knee that never seems to get better. You might walk differently or cut down on your exercise routine. Eventually, you have a harder time making the knee work even for minor activities. It’s the same with many other body parts and organs. The longer they face inflammation without a resolution, the higher your chances of developing a chronic health problem as a result. Chronic inflammation is associated with conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
All of these can be fatal, especially if left undiagnosed or unmanaged.
Can Lack of Sleep Trigger Autoimmune Diseases?
If even one night of lousy sleep can promote inflammation, it’s possible that chronically poor sleep could trigger an autoimmune reaction. There’s a lot that experts don’t understand about autoimmune disease, but there are a few basic facts:
- Autoimmune disease causes the body to fight itself, typically using inflammation
- Women are more likely to get autoimmune disorders than men
- Each condition has an average age the patient develops it
- The presence of symptoms often starts with a specific trigger
Various autoimmune disorders can attack the heart, eyes, kidneys, skin, small intestine, pancreas and more. Because the symptoms can be very similar, it can take a long time to figure out which of the dozens of autoimmune diseases is causing a problem. The average time to get a diagnosis is about 4.5 years from the first observation of symptoms. These are lifelong conditions that cannot be cured. As such, people who are predisposed to developing one may want to avoid inflammation as much as possible.
Sleep Loss, Inflammation and Chronic Health Problems
Researchers are beginning to investigate the relationship between the activation of inflammation and metabolic disorders or heart conditions. Particularly, lack of sleep can trigger the production of a particular protein that increases inflammation. This type of inflammation is associated with insulin resistance, a characteristic of diabetes.
Inflammation increases the level of white blood cells in the body, which is related to a higher risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. This can spell double trouble for people who are getting poor sleep due to Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a condition characterized by sleep interruptions due to an inability to breathe clearly. OSA is also associated with heart disease and high blood pressure.
The symptoms of OSA include persistent snoring, sleep disturbances and exhaustion when you wake up. Prompt treatment is important to prevent it from leading to long-term health struggles. If sleep apnea may be causing your lack of sleep, you now have two good reasons not to ignore it.
How to Improve Sleep and Prevent Inflammation
Since poor sleep can both cause and aggravate these conditions, finding a way to sleep better could be a relatively simple first step. When you realize you’re not getting adequate rest, try these tips:
- Set a sleep schedule and stick to it every night
- Minimize engaging activities near bedtime, especially on devices
- Create a dark, cool, quiet environment for rest
- Select a mattress and pillow that are supportive
- Change your sleep position to ensure an open airway
If you are dealing with OSA or chronic inflammation, you may need to consult a doctor for additional treatment options or medications to help you manage. The use of a sleep apnea mouthpiece to hold open your airway may be an easy, non-invasive solution to minor sleep-related breathing problems.
A bad night’s sleep might be causing inflammation without you even noticing. If you don’t want these diseases to be a big part of your future, you can act now to minimize your risk.
The dental sleep medicine experts at Premier Sleep Associates can help you get better rest each night. To learn more about our services, schedule an appointment or call us at (425) 698-1732.