Living with an autoimmune disease is challenging to say the least. There are currently more than 100 recognized autoimmune diseases impacting over 20 million Americans. Each unique in their symptomatology and the systems and organs they target, these diseases have a wide range of impacts throughout the body. Autoimmune diseases can have a devastating impact on sleep, both directly and indirectly. Some diseases target areas of the body that function in the regulation of sleep, some cause symptoms that disrupt sleep, while others impact sleep through their treatment methods. At Whitney Sleep, our doctors and technicians regularly engage with patients whose sleep disorders have been triggered or impacted by their autoimmune diseases. Keep reading to learn some of the most commonly observed connections between autoimmune disease and sleep.
Autoimmune Disease and Fatigue
Autoimmune diseases enhance the production of inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines play a key role in regulating physiological functions like mood, cognition and sleep. This dysregulation caused by autoimmune disease leads to fatigue. Additionally, inflammation forces the body to expend more effort to complete simple tasks and react to stimuli. Many autoimmune diseases share a comorbidity with depression, anxiety and pain which also can lead to fatigue. In a survey conducted by the American Autoimmune and Related Diseases Association, more than two-thirds of respondents reported experiencing profound and debilitating fatigue that interfered with simple everyday tasks. Fatigue of this magnitude disrupts natural circadian rhythms and quality of sleep and can trigger stress that makes sleep more challenging to achieve.
Autoimmune Disease and Insomnia
Many autoimmune diseases come with chronic pain due to the body’s impulse to attack joints and connective tissue. The inflammation itself as well as the targeted tissue’s response to the inflammation is painful. People suffering from chronic pain experience severe disruptions to their sleep, including developing insomnia. In fact, autoimmune diseases often share a comorbidity with insomnia. This is commonly seen in autoimmune diseases which target the central nervous system with elevated levels of anti-GAD and anti-VGKC antibodies. Noting the connection between both inflammatory pain and CNS-related autoimmune diseases and insomnia is valuable when seeking sleep treatments and determining the appropriate course of action.
Autoimmune Diseases and Sleep Apnea
A recent study found that untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing certain autoimmune diseases, including but not limited to rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. The study showed patients with untreated sleep apnea had abnormal levels of cytokines. While more investigation is needed to fully understand the link, the information collected in this study suggests that this indicates poor sleep and insufficient oxygen supply can affect cytokines.
Other Autoimmune and Sleep Links
The connections between autoimmune diseases and sleep disruptions are vast and varied. In addition to those mentioned above, medications used to treat autoimmune disorders or their symptoms can trigger sleep issues. Steroid treatments are linked to insomnia and benzodiazepines can trigger periodic limb movements and restless legs syndrome. Restless legs syndrome is also considered a symptom for several autoimmune diseases. Recent evidence has revealed that narcolepsy is most likely an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks brain cells that produce a peptide called hypocretin which regulates brain function related to sleep.
Get Sleep Support with Whitney Sleep
Autoimmune diseases and sleep function are closely related. Not only can they cause disordered sleep, but some sleep disorders can increase your risk of developing an autoimmune disease. At Whitney Sleep, we take a comprehensive and consultative approach with each of our patients to fully understand their sleep symptoms and the context of those issues. We offer in-home sleep studies as well as overnight sleep studies in our facilities to track and analyze your sleep patterns. After your sleep study, your Whitney Sleep staff will discuss your data with you and share a treatment plan tailored specifically to your needs. Everyone deserves good sleep. Reach out to us today to get on the path to achieving it.