How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Our Immune Systems?
Posted: October 17, 2022
If you have sleep apnea, there are many health risks you need to be aware of. One less-known effect of this common sleep disorder is a weak, imbalanced immune system. This can lead to higher risks for things like infections, illnesses, poor healing, as well as autoimmune conditions. In this article, we’ll discuss important things to know about sleep apnea and immunity as well as how treatment may help.
Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Immune System
Getting good, healthy sleep is an important part of your health. Sleep is critical for a healthy immune system. If you have sleep apnea, you might suffer from poor quality sleep that may negatively impact your immune system.
If you have sleep apnea, then you stop breathing or breathe really shallowly for seconds or even minutes at a time while you sleep. Usually this is because your muscles relax so much that your airways narrow and close, which is known as obstructive sleep apnea. In other cases, it may be an issue with the signals between your brain and the muscles that cause breathing, which is called central sleep apnea.
When you stop breathing during the night, your body goes into survival mode to get you to breathe again. This means increasing blood pressure and flooding your body with stress hormones to wake you up and get you to breathe again. The result is that you don’t sleep as much as you might think you do during the night and experience sleep fragmentation. Waking frequently to breathe also often prevents you from reaching deeper, more restorative levels of sleep.
Since sleep is important for your immune system, the result is that people with sleep apnea may be at risk for a weaker immune system. In fact, sleep deprivation like what you experience with sleep apnea can make it harder for your immune system to fight off threats and help you heal.
The Many Ways Sleep Apnea Impacts Your Immune System
There are several ways that untreated sleep apnea can harm your immune system. It’s important to understand these risks so you can manage your sleep health and stay healthy. Here are just some of the ways poor sleep quality from sleep apnea can affect your immune system:
Good Quality Sleep is Necessary for Recharging Your Immune System
When you get a good night’s sleep, your body does many things to help maintain your health. One thing that happens during sleep is that your immune system performs functions that basically help it recharge. There are a few reasons for this.
One, your body is using less energy while you’re asleep, so it’s the perfect time for your immune system to improve and also to fight any infections or injuries you might have.
Also, common stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline are generally at their lowest when you get good quality sleep. These stress hormones can suppress the immune system. Since these hormones are usually higher during the day when we’re awake, your immune system takes time during sleep to become more active.
This period of higher immune system activity during sleep is essential for your health. It’s how your immune system gets stronger and also builds memory for how to fight off germs and injuries. You can think of it as your immune system getting in its workout while you sleep.
Of course, if you have sleep apnea, you likely aren’t getting that good quality sleep that your immune system needs. Your sleep may be fragmented by many interruptions throughout the night in your body’s attempt to get you to breathe. You might also suffer from insomnia as a symptom, reducing how much time you sleep during the night as well.
Sleep Deprivation from Sleep Apnea Can Interfere with T-Cells and Natural Killer Cells
Sleep apnea often leads to low levels of sleep deprivation in your everyday life. This can also negatively affect important cells in your immune system, namely T-cells and natural killer cells.
T-cells are part of your adaptive immune system, meaning they react when they recognize certain antigens you get from being exposed to a particular germ, whether from a vaccine or encountering the germ another way, like from someone who is sick. Natural killer cells are part of the innate immune system, and they attack anything they sense that isn’t one of your own cells.
Studies have found that lack of sleep affects both of these important immune system cells. Sleep deprivation can reduce natural killer cell activity. Poor sleep also reduces how well T-cells can bind to antigens, which means they don’t work as effectively. Therefore, sleep apnea may seriously hinder how well your immune system works in case of sickness or infections.
Poor Sleep Can Lead to an Imbalanced Immune System
Another important thing to note about your immune system is that it’s necessary to keep it in balance. It needs to be strong to fight off dangers, so you want your immune system ready to wage war against germs and other foreign bodies at a moment’s notice. However, you also don’t want it in attack mode at all times. Otherwise, it may lead to the immune system attacking your own cells, leading to an autoimmune condition, like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis.
Sleep apnea may increase your risk for an overactive immune system and resulting autoimmune issues. Because this sleep disorder negatively affects sleep, your immune system may not get enough downtime to learn how to fight dangers properly, leading to an imbalanced system that is more likely to attack your own body.
Sleep Apnea May Lead to Chronic Inflammation
In a similar fashion, sleep apnea may increase your risk for chronic inflammation, which can cause a number of serious health effects. Inflammation is an immune response that is helpful for healing because it sends white blood cells to the affected tissues. However, long-term inflammation can actually damage and kill healthy cells. When your immune system is out of balance and working overtime due to poor sleep, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which has been linked to many issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Sleep Apnea May Affect How Well Vaccines Work
Because sleep affects your immune system, getting a good night’s rest can actually boost how well vaccines work. Vaccines usually expose you to a germ so that your immune system can build antibodies that help you fight against it in case you’re exposed in future. However, this process requires a healthy immune system and, therefore, good sleep health. Several studies have found that the immune system responds better to vaccines if you get good quality sleep, so sleep apnea may put you at risk for less effective vaccines.
Sleep Apnea Treatment May Improve Your Immune System
Here’s the good news: since good quality sleep can bolster the immune system, sleep apnea treatment may improve your immune system if you have sleep apnea. One of the most common treatments is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. A CPAP device blows pressurized air into your airways to keep them open while you sleep. This means that you have fewer apnea events where your body needs to wake itself up to breathe. Therefore, you enjoy significantly improved sleep quality and a healthier immune system by treating your sleep apnea.
Improve Your Sleep Health with Total Men’s Health Management from Low T Center
Our team at Low T Center offers total men’s health management solutions. If you have sleep apnea, we offer complete care all under one roof. We can diagnose you with sleep apnea, provide CPAP supplies, as well as monitor your treatment remotely to optimize your sleep. Our team can also help treat underlying conditions to help you find a healthier version of yourself. We are revolutionizing healthcare for men by making it easier, more convenient, and more affordable to take care of your health. Take the first step toward better health: make an appointment at a location near you or order a home sleep test online today.
Disclaimer: This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Low T Center. You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.