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:
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.