12:19 am - Thursday January 24, 2019

Poor Sleep in Older Adults causes Increased Inflammation

According to a study led by a University of Rochester Medical Center researcher, older Older Adults who are Poor Sleepers may increase risk for Elevated Inflammation Levelsadults who sleep poorly have an altered immune system response to stress that may increase risk for mental and physical health problems.

In the study, stress led to significantly larger increases in a marker of inflammation in poor sleepers compared to good sleepers, a marker associated with poor health outcomes and death.

K L Heffner, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry at the Medical Center, said, “This study offers more evidence that better sleep not only can improve overall well-being but also may help prevent poor physiological and psychological outcomes associated with inflammation.”

The researchers said in the study published by the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, that an association between poor sleep & a heightened inflammatory response to acute stress could not be explained by other factors linked to immune impairment, such as depression, loneliness and perceived stress.

Heffner said, “Our study suggests that, for healthy people, it all comes down to sleep and what poor sleep may be doing to our physiological stress response, our fight or flight response”.

The participants were evaluated for cognitive status using a standard assessment. The study involved forty five women and thirty eight men with an average age of sixty one years, was advertised as an investigation of stress and memory.

The participants had to be in good physical health to be in the study, but even so, about twenty seven percent of the participants were categorized as poor sleepers. Each participant completed a self-report of sleep quality, perceived stress, loneliness & medication use.

The participants were given a series of tests of verbal and working memory, a battery of questions that served as the stressor, on the day of the study.

Blood was drawn before any testing began and then immediately following the testing and at three intervals spaced out over sixty minutes.

The blood was studied for levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a protein primarily produced at sites of inflammation.

Poor sleepers reported more depressive symptoms, more loneliness and more global perceived stress relative to good sleepers. Poor sleepers did not differ from good sleepers when IL-6 was measured before the tests began. Across the group, the participants showed increases in IL-6.

However, poor sleepers had a significantly larger increase in IL-6 in response to the stressful tests compared to good sleepers, as much as four times larger and at a level found to increase risk for illness and death in older adults. Poor sleep stood as the predictor of elevated inflammation levels.

As people age, a gradual decline in the immune system occurs along with elevated inflammation levels. Heightened inflammation increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses, as well as psychiatric problems.

While relatively little is known about the pathways through which poor sleep impacts circulating levels of inflammatory proteins, the study led by Heffner provides a clinical target for preventing poor outcomes for older adults.

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