Sleep, immune function, cytokines…


Fascinating bit of news. According to a Science Daily article (, a study, published in February in the journal “Sleep,” shows a link between sleep duration and the production of cytokines…mainly, IL-6 and C-reactive protein or CRP. Okay, that really caught my attention, since both are involved up to their ears in myeloma progression.


Let’s take a quick look. Each additional hour of self-reported sleep duration was associated with an eight-percent increase in C-reactive protein (CRP) levels and a seven-percent increase in interleukin-6 (IL-6), which are two inflammatory mediators. In contrast, each hour of reduction in sleep measured objectively by polysomnography was associated with an eight-percent increase in tumor necrosis factor alpha, another pro-inflammatory cytokine.


So if we don’t go to sleep at all, our CRP and IL-6 levels will go way down (good), but at the same time our TNF alpha levels will go up (bad, but I am more concerned about IL-6 and CRP in myeloma). Hmmm. Okay, I am now seriously thinking about sleeping less…no, no, wait, there is some bad news…the less we sleep, the more we increase our chances of developing diabetes, hypertension and obstructive sleep apnea. Oh, phooey! Uffa! And there is more…


Another Science Daily article (see, published last fall, tells us that loss of sleep can prompt one’s immune system to turn against healthy tissue and organs. Er, not sure I like the sound of that…In fact, we have a better chance of avoiding heart and autoimmune diseases if we get a good night’s sleep. And, incidentally, the researchers in this particular study measured our old friend, NF-kappaB., which turned out to be higher in women who were sleep-deprived. Hah. And more…


A related issue. According to HealthDay (, our immune systems work better at night: Stanford University research with fruit flies reveals that the immune system fights invading bacteria the hardest at night and the least during the day. Stanford University researchers found that fruit flies, whose genetic makeup is incredibly similar to ours, were better able to fight bacterial infections at night than during the day. Well, this would seem to support one of my gut feelings: that it is better to take curcumin and other supplements late in the day, when the body’s metabolism slows down.


Just for the heck of it, I looked up sleep and immune function on PubMed, where I found loads of studies. This 2009 one (full study:, for instance, tells us that Species that have evolved longer sleep durations appear to be able to increase investment in their immune systems and be better protected from parasites. Indeed, further on the researchers suggest that sleep fuels the immune system and say that antibody responses and natural killer cell activity are reduced following sleep deprivation. And, in the Discussion part: Our results suggest mammalian species that spend more time asleep are able to increase investment in their immune systems, and thus are better protected from parasitic infection. Well, that explains why I slept almost all the time when I had pleurisy a couple of years ago, and why we sleep more when we have any sort of infection…interesting!


In conclusion. More sleep = higher CRP and IL-6 (bad) BUT also higher immunity and less susceptibility to heart/autoimmune diseases (good). Less sleep = lower TNF alpha (good) BUT higher NF-kappaB (only in women, though), lower immunity and increased susceptibility to diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, parasitic infections and heart trouble (bad bad bad).


Let’s see…hey, isn’t it about time for my nap/pisolino now??? (hehe)


  1. Hi Margaret;

    Thanks for another good read. However, for all things sleep related, I confer with my cat Buckwheat who says, “When in doubt, take a nap!”

    Hope you are well.


  2. Hi Margaret,
    So sleeping is like
    speaking English…you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t!! We just can WIN! On that I need to take a nap.

  3. Certainly there is a correlation between reduced sleep and sleep apnea. However the cause and effect relationship may be reversed here. When a person is gradually developing sleep apnea, one becomes increasingly unable to sleep, for the body is being jarred awake in order to breathe every time one starts to sleep. By the time my sleep apnea was diagnosed, tests showed I was waking or arousing over 60 times an hour in order to breathe. I had been complaining of severe fatique and poor sleeping for years, but until I told a doctor I was sleeping until 3PM trying (unsuccessfully) to get adequate sleep, no one ordered the tests! In the meantime, I had also developed MGUS and all sorts of autoimmune disease: tendonitis, frozen shoulder, autoimmune thyroiditis, Sjogren’s, autoimmune liver inflammation, spine inflammation, and CREST autoantibodies. There is also a positive correlation between untreated thyroid disease and sleep apnea, however the cause and effect relationship is blurry here, too. Everything does seem wrapped up together!

  4. I would like to undeline the importance of sleep for our health and in particular for the immune system. This has not been taken into proper consideration for so many years by medicine. At nowadays this is not just an idea but a scientifical point. I read the book by William C. Dement about sleep. This is the book of a life spent studing and experimenting about sleep. Doctor Dement measured for instance the relationship between the time when we go to bed and the quantity of NKs (Natural Killers antibodies) in our body: I do not have the book here this evening, but I just remember that the decrease of NKs is amazing if we go to bed late and proportional to the time.
    A few years ago I was perfectly healty, just suffering from insomnia. Then MGUS came out and… all the rest. I can not be sure that bad sleep was the cause of MGUS and the rest, but I advice good sleep as a basic lifestyle rule (as much as good nutrition and ph. exercise if possible).
    Now I can not say to most of you “Good night”, but it’s 11 pm here: the perfect moment to go to bed… The best interval to catch the “sleep train” ? 10.30 – 11.30. Ciao

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