The story at a glance
- There is no doubt that regular quality sleep is good for your health.
- But as temperatures rise, sleep disturbances may become more common, especially for those who cannot afford air conditioning.
- A new review explores the implications of a changing climate on sleep-related immune outcomes.
On the heels of new research suggesting warmer nights could lead to a 60% increase in global mortality, a new review published in the journal Temperature describes how climate change may be impacting sleep patterns, making humans more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Previous studies have shown that changes in people’s thermoregulation and increases in ambient temperature can disrupt sleep, wrote author Michael R. Irwin, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California at California. Los Angeles: “By priming the innate immune response, sleep prepares the body for injury or infection that may occur the next day.
Disturbed sleep can lead to an increase in inflammatory markers and interfere with the balance of the immune system.
“Under these conditions, sleep disturbances have additional potent effects in decreasing adaptive immune response, impairing vaccine responses, and increasing susceptibility to infectious disease,” Irwin wrote.
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The association raises questions regarding timely events as the world continues to experience the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and in light of a recently declared global health emergency for monkeypox. For the first time in years, evidence of an increase in polio cases has also been detected.
This summer, the United States has already experienced record heat, and projections estimate that by the middle of the century, more than 100 million Americans will face extreme temperatures.
The consequences of poor sleep resulting from higher temperatures could also disproportionately impact underserved populations who may not have access to air conditioning and are at increased risk of adverse health effects related to heat.
A survey of 765,000 people included in the study showed that rising nighttime temperatures exacerbated self-reported rates of poor sleep — a particularly strong finding in older adults and low-income communities.
The data assessed also revealed that the elderly and those with existing inflammatory conditions may be at increased risk for heat-related sleep disorders. Some of these populations, such as people with cardiovascular disease or depression, are also at increased risk for insomnia.
In one study, those who were partially sleep deprived for four nights showed a 50% reduction in the amounts of antibodies to a flu vaccine compared to those who had normal sleep.
Other infectious disease models have proven that longer sleep duration can reduce bacterial load and improve survival.
Further research should investigate these effects and any additional effects of warming temperatures on sleep patterns and resultant immune function, Irwin said.
“Just as the pandemic is disproportionately impacting lower socio-economic and ethnic groups with more morbid outcomes, it could be that the rise in ambient temperature we are seeing further exaggerates these risk profiles.”
Posted on August 19, 2022