Sleep allows the mind and body to recharge; slow down, and engage in recovery. A healthy amount of sleep aids brain function and improves mood and health. Hence, sleep is just as important as a balanced diet and exercise. Subsequently, not getting enough sleep increases your risk of many diseases and disorders. But how exactly does lack of sleep make one sick? Can lack of sleep cause fever?
In today’s hectic and fast-paced society, not everybody gets the luxury of a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation have become more common than ever before. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that some 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders.
Sleep and Your Immune System
The immune system is designed to ward off pathogens and disease-causing organisms. It’s the body’s first line of defense against cold, flu, and other ailments. But the immune system needs to be constantly recharged with rest and nutrients to work at its best. Sleep plays a vital role in the robustness of the immune system. It has been determined to contribute to both innate and adaptive immunity.
Studies show that certain parts of the immune system get recharged during sleep. One example is the body’s production of cytokines, which are associated with inflammation. Sleep appears to increase the production of cytokines and manages the body’s circadian rhythm (internal body clock). When you are ill or injured, the body’s inflammatory response will help you recover and fortify the body’s innate and adaptive immunity, as the latter works to repair the wounds and ward off infections.
Moreover, sleep deprivation is linked to a long list of physical and mental health problems resulting from a compromised immune system. Sleep helps the body regulate internal body temperature. Consequently, sleep deprivation can cause an increase in skin temperature. This is why you will get cold when you don’t get a good night’s sleep.
Can lack of sleep cause a fever?
While not having a good night’s sleep will not automatically cause you to have a fever the next day, it can make you more susceptible to fever-related illnesses.
Lack of sleep can compromise your immune system, increasing your risk of getting sick and getting sick for a more extended period. Research shows that sleep deprivation causes the body’s stress hormones to inhibit the T-cells (an essential part of your immune system developed from stem cells found in bone marrow). These are the cells that fight other cells infected by the virus.
Sleep loss also influences how your body fights illnesses. Fever is one of the primary responses of the body to fight infections. When you get quality sleep, your body gets a better fever response. This is why fever tends to rise at night. However, when you are sleep-deprived, your body’s reaction to fever is not primed. This means your body’s ability to wage war against infection is compromised.
Three ways lack of sleep can lead to fever
Sleep deprivation can cause fever in three ways:
It increases skin temperature
During the day, blood flow to your body is not equally distributed. Depending on your position, more blood usually flows to the abdomen and chest compared to the periphery like arms, hands, legs, and feet. When you lie down and sleep, blood gets distributed throughout your body more evenly, including your skin. This increased blood flow during sleep improves heat loss, causing your temperature to drop.
Lack of sleep, on the other hand, disrupts the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The difference in temperature in the middle and lower part of the body can be used as a “sleep debt” marker.
When you are sleep-deprived and are exposed to a mildly cooler environment, you will quickly lose your temperature and start to feel cold. Your body’s ability to reward also decreases due to the disrupted thermoregulatory mechanisms.
Sleep deprivation increases brain temperature
The brain’s increased blood flow and metabolic demands due to sleep deprivation results in increased temperature of the brain.
The hypothalamus, which does many things, is also the part of the brain that regulates the body and the brain’s temperature. Lack of sleep can easily compromise its ability to regulate the temperature.
Regular increase in the brain’s temperature usually leads to attention impairment, memory loss, and learning problems.
Moreover, the CDC also say that lack of sleep impairs judgment, decision-making, and coordination, similar to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. They compared sleep deprivation for 24 hours as similar to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.10%, higher than the legal limit for driving (0.8%).
Sleep deprivation increases the risk of infections
When it comes to short-term effects, sleep-deprived individuals (people who sleep six hours or less on a nightly basis) are more likely to catch a common cold or flu.
Long-term lack of sleep is also attributed to multiple immune system problems. Nighttime inflammation in those who regularly get quality sleep recedes to normal before waking up. On the other hand, sleep-deprived individuals’ inflammation persists in the morning as their body’s self-regulating system fails.
Over time, this low level of systemic inflammation can take its toll, resulting in an increased risk of chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, pain, and even neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, persistent inflammation is also linked to a higher risk of depression, which explains why people with this mental disorder also have sleeping problems. Persistent inflammation is also strongly linked to various types of cancer.
While anyone can get through the day with a limited amount of sleep, the body does not “get used” to this kind of routine. Low-grade inflammation caused by long-term sleep deprivation can become chronic, worsening health problems in the long run. And while you can achieve some tolerance to chronic sleep deprivation, even though both your body and brain struggle daily due to lack of sleep, the problem will keep getting worse.
While lack of sleep can lead to fever, it is difficult to say that it is the exact cause, as both conditions can be present simultaneously due to certain medical conditions.
One thing is certain, though, you must seek immediate medical help if you are regularly experiencing sleep deprivation problems.