Disturbed Sleep and Autoimmunity

If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition it may well have begun with fatigue that isn’t remedied by sleep. Sleep and immunity are connected and this affects your health and wellbeing. I explore how sleep and immunity impact your circadian rhythm and the impact on your hormones. You will find some tips to improve your sleep and support your immune system better.

There is an epidemic of sleep disorders – from trouble falling asleep to often-interrupted sleep to actual insomnia. 1. 2Lack of sleep increases risk of cancer, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and simply not feeling well or functioning well during the day. 3

How Sleep and Immune System connect

Sleep alters our immune responses and sleep deprivation increases susceptibility to viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections. 4. The immune and hormonal system are intricately connected, for example we are more prone to illness when under stress. The quality of our sleep affects our imunity and has a knock on hormonal effect. This relationship controls many biological processes.

During sleep, your immune system releases immune messengers called cytokines, some of them help promote sleep. Others are key to fighting infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. Also infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced when you don’t get enough sleep.

Risk factors

Long-term lack of sleep increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel disease. A dysregulation of the appetite hormones occurs reducing the ‘satiety’ or fullness hormone leptin and increasing in the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin. Sleep loss increases our calorie need so hormones respond resulting in hunger. Stress hormones are also raised due to lack of sleep. This can cause a vicious circle as stress counteracts our sleep hormone melatonin. 5


Melatonin is a valuable hormone not only in terms of sleep, but also for healthy cells, immune function and mood as it makes the happy hormone serotonin! The pineal gland in the brain secretes melatonin mainly in response to darkness. Think of the sunrise and sunset. As we get exposed to sun throughout the day, your body’s melatonin secretion drops off when it gets darker in the evening the secretion increases again. Melatonin helps maintain the body’s normal sleep wake cycle known as circadian rhythm. Its an internal clock running 24 hours per day. This cycle is complex but connected to this simple rising and falling process. 6.

Melatonin suppresses the activity of other brain chemicals and helps to calm the brain by counteracting the stress hormone cortisol. So stress prevents melatonin from rising. Our evening cortisol levels are lowest in environments with low light and noise. Therefore our evening activity choices can get in the way of these natural chemical shifts that support good sleep. Sleep is a real rest for both physical and mental activities. As we become drowsier, the brain begins to turn off our voluntary muscle function. This prevents us moving about as much disrupting the body’s internal revitalization work.

Some think taking melatonin is the miraculous way to get better sleep, but your bodies way of releasing the hormone is finely tuned and can be easily disrupted by sleep supplements, confusing your natural circadian rhythm.

How much sleep is too much

The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. Teenagers need nine to 10 hours of sleep. School-aged children may need 10 or more hours of sleep. Bear in mind more sleep isn’t always better, sleeping more than nine to 10 hours a night may result in a poor quality of sleep. You may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Quality sleep is more important than quantity.

How to Sleep

  • Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual e.g take a bath
  • Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
  • Exercise daily
  • Get outdoors in daylight!
  • Ensure your room is dark and not to hot or cold
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
  • No screens at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Use blue shade on screens if you have to.


Sleep certainly impacts immunity, and may be a sign of auto immunity. Porr sleep puts us at risk of certain diseases especially if our job or lifestyle causes it. Preventing stress and protecting your body’s natural chemical shifts with good sleep hygiene can help support better sleep.


  1. Institute of Medicine. Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: an unmet public health problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.
  2. Unhealthy sleep-related behaviors—12 states, 2009. MMWR 2011;60:233–238. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6008a2.htm
  3. Ram. S, et Al., 2010 Prevalence and impact of sleep disorders and sleep habits in the United States. Sleep Breath 14:63–70
  4. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jir/2015/678164/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394987/
  6. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sleep-disorders/role-melatonin-circadian-rhythm-sleep-wake-cycle

Do you want to sort out fact from fiction? Personalised nutrition is not a one size fits all approach but gets to the root the cause of symptoms. I can help you on this journey with bespoke nutrition and lifestyle recommendations for protecting and balancing your health.

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