How Circadian Rhythms Influence Autoimmune Disease
Last updated: December 2022
Circadian rhythms are 24-hour patterns generated by people's internal body clocks. These patterns respond to the environment, so they can change. Your circadian rhythms help tell you when to go to bed and when to wake up according to the light-dark cycle.1
Circadian rhythms regulate various functions in the body. These functions include:1
- Hormone (melatonin) release
- Eating habits
- Body temperature
Certain triggers can disrupt your circadian rhythms. Triggers can include being jet-lagged or changing shifts at work. Not keeping a regular sleep schedule can confuse your internal clock. Even using electronic devices at night can interrupt your circadian rhythms.2
The link between autoimmune diseases and circadian rhythms
Getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis helps prevent you from getting sick. When you are sleep-deprived, your defenses are down. This makes it harder for your body to fight off infections.3
Just as you have your circadian rhythms, so do the cells of your immune system. If your sleep pattern is disrupted regularly, so is your disease resistance. Studies have shown that circadian rhythms control many aspects of your immune system. The reverse is also true.4
Research suggests that people whose circadian rhythms are off may be more likely to develop autoimmune diseases. Examples of these diseases are:4
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Axial spondyloarthritis
Another study concluded that people's immune systems are more active at times when they are more likely to encounter bacteria or viruses. Then, their immune systems rest while they are at rest. So, their immune systems are not constantly fighting off invaders.4,5
These findings tell us that your immune system may be programmed to respond at different times within your circadian rhythm. Further study could lead to other ways to treat and even prevent autoimmune diseases.5
Tips for a good night's sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging for many people. This may be because of chronic pain, a demanding schedule, or another stressor. If you are struggling to get restful sleep, here are some tips you may want to try:6
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends or while on vacation.
- Establish a relaxing routine. Do something that is calming before going to bed to help you wind down.
- Build exercise into your daily routine. It may help you sleep better.
- Invest in a mattress and pillows that are comfortable and supportive.
- Make your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.
- Do not drink caffeine in the afternoon hours.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine. A glass of wine or a cocktail may make you feel sleepy at first, but you are likely to wake up later in the night.
- Do not eat 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
Would you like to talk to others in our community about the link between circadian rhythms and autoimmune diseases? Have your sleep troubles seemed to lead to an increase in your struggles with chronic hives? Reach out for discussion in one of our forums.
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