Often maligned as a side effect of poor diet or broader bad health, inflammation can actually be good for you when it occurs acutely. That’s because during inflammation, the body sends a rush of white blood cells to a particular part of the body, helping to protect against infection or heal an injury.
However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on your health by leaving you vulnerable to disease and causing complications throughout the body. Experts are now warning about a dangerous type of inflammation of the brain, which can occur in response to one poor nightly habit. Read on to learn which nighttime mistake could be causing long-term inflammation, and why it could be hazardous to your health.
Chronic inflammation is a dangerous condition that can send your other body’s systems spiraling. “When inflammation gets turned up too high and lingers for a long time, and the immune system continues to pump out white blood cells and chemical messengers that prolong the process, that’s known as chronic inflammation,” explains Harvard Health Publishing. When this happens, the immune system remains in “fight mode” long-term, causing those same white blood cells to begin attacking healthy tissues or organs.
This can leave you susceptible to a broad range of serious health conditions. Chronic inflammation has been linked with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and bowel diseases, to name just a few.
Experts warn that many people develop inflammation of the brain when they fail to get enough sleep at night. To make matters worse, a recent report in the journal Trends in Neurosciences contends that even if you “make up” for lost sleep later, the damage has already been done, and will be difficult to reverse.
In several recent studies on mice, researchers have found that the long-term damage caused by sleep deprivation persists long after normal sleep patterns have been restored. “After a full year of regular sleep, the mice that previously had been sleep-deprived still suffered from neural damage and brain inflammation,” The New York Times reported in a Jul. 2022 article.
Inflammation from sleep loss appears to be caused by changes in the blood vessels, Harvard experts theorize in a separate report. “During sleep, blood pressure drops and blood vessels relax. When sleep is restricted, blood pressure doesn’t decline as it should, which could trigger cells in blood vessel walls that activate inflammation,” they write. “A lack of sleep might also alter the body’s stress response system.”
They also note that poor sleep can cause problems in the glymphatic system (distinct from the lymphatic system), which is tasked with clearing out beta-amyloid proteins in the brain. “In the deepest sleep phases, cerebrospinal fluid rushes through the brain, sweeping away beta-amyloid protein linked to brain cell damage,” their experts write. “Without a good night’s sleep, this house cleaning process is less thorough, allowing the protein to accumulate—and inflammation to develop.”
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If you do skimp on sleep, it won’t take long for your brain to feel the effects. “Just one night of lost sleep can keep beta-amyloid levels higher than usual,” Harvard Health warns. Even worse is “a cumulative pattern of sleep loss,” which they say can leads to “decreases in the structural integrity, size, and function of brain regions like the thalamus and hippocampus, which are especially vulnerable to damage during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”
To make matters worse, poor sleep for even one night can quickly lead to worse sleep overall. “A vicious cycle sets in. Beta-amyloid buildup in the brain’s frontal lobe starts to impair deeper, non-REM slow-wave sleep. This damage makes it harder both to sleep and to retain and consolidate memories,” Harvard experts write.
If you believe your sleep habits could be compromising your health, speak with your healthcare provider for tips on how to improve your sleep hygiene and get better rest.