Sleep Disturbance and Disease Part 1

23 June 2019/ Sleep Related Issues

Good Sleep

We can all see how good sleep helps...

...people to stay younger for longer.  The term "beauty sleep" is part of our English idiom and we've all seen people with small children gradually become more haggard and "run-down" until they can get back to a better sleep situation.

However, few people realise that chronic loss of sleep quantity or quality can lead - in fact, will lead - to numerous health problems.  And many are remarkably serious.


So here are some which chronic sleep disturbance can cause:

For some of you the words of a famous brattish,  now elderly, tennis player may come to mind.  "Surely you cannot be serious! Lack of sleep can cause heart disease? Blindness? Come on, man..."

Well, it's not just lack of sleep but long term or chronic sleep disturbance. But yes it can really cause these very serious diseases.

Since they are a remarkably diverse set of conditions and sound like pretty extreme consequences, there should be some sort of explanation of how sleep issues can produce the range of conditions described.

Sleep Disturbance and Stress

Firstly, lack of sleep puts stress on our bodies.  This is a surprise to nobody. 

And what may be a surprise to many is that acute or short term stress (short term sleep loss) in fact leads, to an increased immune response. 

As well as the fight-flight sympathetic nervous system adrenal response, the adrenal cortex releases glucocorticoids  which are anti-inflammatory agents.  Together, the adrenalin and anti-inflammatory agents stimulate the entire range of the innate immune system, so very short term stress can actually make you healthier. 

But - and it's a big but...

If the stress continues, exactly the opposite thing happens.

When sleep disturbance becomes chronic, the adrenal response is rapidly habituated and its immune function disappears.  With chronic sleep disturbance the stress has become patterned (and predicable).  When stress is patterned like this, the immune boosting anti-inflammatory agents also disappear almost as quickly as the adrenalin. 

Consequently, chronic sleep loss means one immune outcome.  The innate immune system is suppressed.  In fact,  pro-inflammatory agents are released and both immune defense cell production and leukocyte (white blood cell) traffic is inhibited.  

Chronic Sleep Disturbance Does Cause Disease

Then it's only natural that many body systems begin to experience difficulties.  

In all these diseases above, the long-term stress of chronic sleep loss modifies the active balance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents across a variety of a systems resulting in a suppressed immune response and debilitating effects on the function of a number of organs.  

Cognitive Disorders

In contrast to the medical issues above, the effect of long term sleep loss on cognitive functioning has been very well documented for a very long time.  Not only simple cognition problems, but also cognitive disorders can be brought on by continuing sleep disturbance.


  • Memory lapses
  • Psychosis (especially REM sleep behaviour disorder),
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder,
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and
  • Major Depression Disorder

can all be brought about and/or exacerbated by chronic lack of good sleep.

Risk factor

Chronic Sleep Disturbance has also been shown to be a risk factor in Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer's Disease.  It is also a significant risk factor for any neuro-degenerative disease, demonstrated in a number of studies.

Finally, Chronic Sleep Disturbance is a major risk factor for a number of social-behavioural problems including alcoholism, anti-social behaviours and fatigue related errors.

Diseases that cause sleep disturbance

Likewise, sleep disturbance can come about through the disruptive effect of a number of maladies.

Firstly, by the following diseases:

  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Auto-immune diseases, especially those with impact upon the central nervous system
  • Restless leg syndrome/periodic limb movement disorder.

Secondly, the following chronic health conditions:

  • Diabetes (type 2),
  • Obesity
  • Nervous bladder/BPH
  • Bruxism
  • Breathing obstruction
  • Perimenopause
  • Neuro-chemical imbalances
  • Pain or other discomfort

Thirdly, these psychological disorders:

  • Mania;
  • Depression;
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety (GAD).

You will, by now, surely notice the tremendous overlap  between the diseases caused by sleep disturbance and the diseases that can cause sleep disturbance.

So it cuts both ways. 

Yet the part you have most control of is the sleep part.  Hypnotherapy can make that a reality and in the next part we'll explore some of how that works.  It's worth remembering that good sleep isn't a luxury. 

It's a birthright.

Some further reading:

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