Sleep Deprivation’s Effect on Autoimmune Disease

Have you ever noticed a correlation between your sleep patterns and Inflammatory Bowel Disease distress? Usually if I go a few nights of irregular sleep my ulcerative colitis will flare up. This is especially true if I haven’t gotten enough sleep and am still working just as hard during the day. My body is like, “why don’t you let me rest?” and then retaliates by blowing up my intestines. Thanks, colon. Love you too.

This happened most recently on a long trip which required a 10+ hour flight. I’m one of those people who can’t sleep on airplanes. Jet lag got the best of me and I ended up flaring on vacation due to lack of sleep and normal routine. Check out this article summarizing a study where they gave mice ‘jet lag’ to test their inflammatory response. You’ll never believe which mice had negative immune responses. Umm just kidding. Of course you’ll guess. The ones with jet lag and poor sleep patterns! Duh.
The article explains how a research group studied a protein (NFIL3) that helps the healthy activity of immune cells (T cells). Mice, the animal they tested it on, had higher levels of T cells than normal. When there are too many T cells it actually does more harm than good. Instead of boosting immunity it causes a negative immune response and illness.

sleeping cat

Why is sleep important?

For starters, sleeping is a way to restart and refresh your body. Recharging helps everything in your body act the way it should. There are a couple benefits to sleeping other than not driving yourself insane from fatigue. For one, hormones that affect the gut are impacted by sleep. Your muscles get to finally relax. Your stress levels also stabilize and get back to normal with adequate sleep.

When your brain and body tell you you’re tired it’s because YOU ARE. Ever get that feeling your eyes are heavy? Well your eyes are organs. And they have muscle and tissue that gets tired too, ya know! Hence, your colon will also get tired. The muscles in your large intestine that move your poop around are like “no.. we’re done. It’s late and we’re tired. Sorry.”

Gut Bacteria: Aside from giving your muscles a break it helps stabilize two hormones that are affected by sleep: Melatonin and Prolactin. Both of these hormones are also partially responsible for promoting good bacteria in our guts. So when you sleep poorly these two helpers aren’t able to improve digestion.

Hormonal Distress: Melatonin is found in the digestive system more so than the brain! Melatonin also plays a big role with inflammation. So when you experience sleep disturbances the melatonin is like, “fine…I won’t do my job until you sleep!” Thus making you inflamed with sluggish digestion.
Not only does sleep affect your hormones but hormones can also impact your sleep! When your other hormones are out of whack (menstruation, puberty, pregnancy, etc) your sleep may be interrupted more easily.

Digestion: Without the correct amount of sleep for your body it can even slow down digestion. Have you ever had a rough night and woke up not hungry for breakfast? It’s because your body hasn’t been able to properly rest and go into ‘recharge’ mode causing your digestion to be sluggish while you “sleep”. If you’re even getting any good sleep.


5 Ways to improve the quality of your sleep.

The ideal amount of sleep is 7-9 hours. Are you getting enough? Almost. Maybe. But is it good quality sleep? Laying in bed for 7 hours is different from that deep sleep with a million layers like the movie Inception.

  1. LAY OFF THE CAFFEINE. After a night of bad sleep it can be tempting to refuel with coffee or other energy boosting beverages. This can mess you up for the rest of the day prohibiting you from sleeping well yet again! Instead, drink cool lemon water and hydrate all day.
  2. DON’T EAT BEFORE BEDTIME. Leave at least 2 hours after your last meal to go to bed. That way, your body can adequately start the digestive process.
  3. BLACK OUT CURTAINS. Light is the best natural alarm clock. But if you’re able to sleep in longer than sunrise it can be frustrating if a little sunlight is peaking through your window into your sleep cycle! Sleeping in a dark room will improve the quality and length of your sleep.
  4. DEVELOP A ROUTINE. If you can, adjust your schedule so that your body gets used to going to bed and shutting down at the same time every night.
  5. REST BEFORE BED TIME. Give your body time to calm itself down. If you just finished wrestling the children out of bath time, cleaning the house, or just getting home after hours of stressful traffic…calm down first. Practice some meditation or concentrate on your breathing for 5 minutes. Lay down with the intention of not sleeping for another half hour. Giving your body time to decompress (with the TV off!) will help it rest much deeper during the night.


Sleep well, everyone!

Suggested read: Lights Out by T.S. Wiley

4 thoughts on “Sleep Deprivation’s Effect on Autoimmune Disease

  1. Lisa

    That was totally me! After healing myself from four AI diseases, my psoriasis started to flare again. It wasn’t until I realized that I had been sleeping poorly one week that I correlated it. Sometimes it’s the little things! 🙂

  2. Pingback: How Do I Know if I’m in Remission? – Mangia Paleo

  3. Pingback: Is Stress Making Your Inflammatory Bowel Disease Worse? – Mangia Paleo

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