Research suggests rising temperatures could disrupt sleep and weaken immune response

It’s a scene that will be familiar to many after another scorching summer: you’re lying awake on a hot night, the sheets spread, an oversized ceiling fan offering little respite as you struggle to get a good night’s sleep.

But a warming planet doesn’t just mean more people will have trouble getting quality sleep. There’s also evidence to suggest that sleep problems could make it harder for the body to fend off infections, according to a new research paper from Dr. Michael Irwin, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.

Irwin, who has extensively studied how sleep regulates the immune system, said that although there are few studies on how ambient temperature or l ambient air affects sleep, they indicate that warmer temperatures contribute to sleep disturbances. Studies have also shown that poor sleep is associated with an increased risk of infectious diseases and could make certain vaccinations less effective, writes Irwin in a research review published in the peer-reviewed journal Temperature last week.

Given research showing a potential link between poor sleep and reduced immune response, Irwin said this raises timely questions about whether climate change is leading to an increased risk of diseases infections amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an outbreak of monkeypox, and the re-emergence of poliovirus in New York and London.

“No one had previously established this notion that the ongoing climate crisis is contributing to sleep problems and that it is possibly contributing to the altered risk of infectious diseases that we find,” said Irwin, director of the Cousins ​​Cente r for Psychoneuroimmunology at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Irwin said the dilemma also raises important implications about disparities, because or truck low-income communities and communities of color face increased heat risk and have less access to air conditioning.

What Research Shows

Irwin’s article analyzes how poor sleep affects the immune system and could make people more vulnerable to infectious disease threats. Among the searches he cites:

  • There is a strong association between sleep and thermoregulation, or how humans maintain a stable internal temperature. Experimental studies have shown that reducing air temperature to a range in which humans can maintain normal body temperature without expending abnormal energy improves sleep quality, while increasing body temperature air leads to increased wakefulness. Data from a survey of 50 000 people in the United States have also found that increasing nighttime temperatures amplified self-reported nights of insufficient sleep, with greatest effects during summer and among older and low-income people
  • Sleep is believed to help prepare the body’s response to any injury or infection that may occur the next day. When sleep is disrupted, it contributes to increased inflammation and reduces the body’s ability to fight infections. This means there may be an increased risk in older adults and patients with inflammatory conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and certain styles of depression, who have a higher prevalence of insomnia
  • Some small experimental studies in humans indicate that poor sleep may also lead to a weaker vaccine response. In one study, for example, people who had four consecutive nights of partial sleep deprivation before receiving a trivalent influenza vaccine had a 50% reduction in antibody titers compared to those who slept normally. Other studies that have tested the effects of sleep disruption after influenza or hepatitis vaccination suggest that short sleep duration, at least in healthy adults, is likely associated with an adaptive immunological response. reduced and possibly clinical protection
  • Sleep duration is also associated with infectious disease risk outcomes. Basic research has shown that more sleep results in decreased bacterial demand and improved survival in a variety of infectious disease models. Self-reported surveys have also shown an affiliation between shorter sleep and higher risk of infection
  • Although there is ample evidence that sleep difficulties and depressive symptoms have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, little is known about things about how lack of sleep can affect COVID-19 infection risk and outcomes. However, a recent study of more than 46 000 patients indicated that significant sleep disruption was associated with a more than 2-fold increase in mortality risk in patients with COVID-19, whereas ‘no similar association was found in those who did not
  • Irwin said future research on this topic should assess how the Changes in ambient temperatures affect sleep and, therefore, immune function. He said there should also be a focus on how rising ambient temperatures can affect diverse and disadvantaged communities.

    “Just as the pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on lower socioeconomic and ethnic groups with more morbid outcomes, it could be that the increased ambient temperature that we see further exaggerates these risk profiles,” Irwin said.

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