How does inflammation affect our internal body clock?
01/30/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

Factors that commonly affect sleep quality include light exposure or an irregular sleep schedule. However, according to a study, inflammation can also be linked to certain types of sleep disorders.

The study, which was published in the journal Genes & Development, was conducted by researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (Feinberg).

Inflammation and sleep quality

The researchers reported that inflammation, the root cause of autoimmune disorders such as arthritis, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and Type 1 diabetes, had surprising effects on body clock function. It may even cause shiftwork-type and sleep disorders.

Using new technology, a genetic switch, researchers were able to turn inflammation on and off in genetically modified mouse subjects.

The results of the study revealed that when the researchers deactivated inflammation, the mice were unable to tell what time it was. Additionally, the mice models had difficulty maintaining an intact rest-activity cycle. (Related: Temperature and light from your environment tells your body when to sleep, finds research on fruit flies.)

The study was the first-of-its-kind to determine a link between "what causes inflammation and what controls the body's clock." The researchers found out that inflammatory disease makes the body experience an excess of NF-kappa beta (NFKB), a genetic factor.

NFKB is a catalyst for a set of chain reactions, or pathway, that causes the pain and tissue destruction that a patient with inflammatory disease experiences. The researchers noted that this same chain-reaction catalyst also controls the body's clock.


Dr. Joseph Bass, the senior author of the study, a professor of medicine, and director of the Center for Diabetes and Metabolism at Feinberg, said that NFKB modifies the core processor that people use to tell time. Thanks to the study findings, the researchers now know that it is also crucial "in linking inflammation to rest-activity patterns."

Dr. Bass explained that when an individual with sore muscles takes ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation, they are basically trying to reduce the activation of inflammation – like the researchers did in this study. The findings also suggest that a person's diet can influence their sleep-wake cycle.

Additionally, the results gave the researchers a detailed road map that can help them learn more about the essential mechanisms through which inflammation, along with the inflammation that occurs when a person regularly consumes a high-fat diet, and other possible factors that cause circadian disorders.

Hee-Kyung Hong, first author and a research assistant professor of endocrinology at Feinberg, said that the research team wanted to determine how a high-fat diet can influence "the perception of time at the tissue level." This desire inspired them to study inflammation and how it affects the body.

The Western diet is a factor linked to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and specific types of cancer because it is "the inappropriate trigger of inflammation." One unifying idea suggests that impaired time-keeping is one of the links between diet and disease.

Hong concluded that while they still don't know the reasons, the interaction between the inflammation and clocks "is not only relevant to understanding how inflammation affects the brain and sleep-wake cycle but also how immune or fat cells work."

Tips for resetting an irregular sleep schedule

If you want to restore your normal sleeping schedule, follow the tips below.

  • Try not to take a nap, even if you feel tired. Napping can make it hard to fall asleep at night. If you feel like you really need to take a nap, try to schedule a session at the gym. Exercise can help you stay awake in the morning so you can sleep better at night.
  • Do not sleep in, and wake up at the same time every day. You need to be consistent if you want to maintain a healthy and normal sleep schedule. Buy a loud alarm clock, then leave it somewhere far from your bed so you won't be tempted to hit the snooze button. Your body clock needs instructions, and it will get confused if you wake up early on weekdays but you sleep in on weekends. If you're not a morning person, think of one thing that makes waking up easier, like a good cup of coffee or seeing your friends at work earlier.
  • Stick to your sleep schedule. Once you're used to a workable bedtime and a consistent wake-up time, don’t mess up your schedule. Even waking up late for one day may ruin the progress you’ve made, and predictability is crucial for a regular sleep schedule.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Try relaxing activities like listening to calming music or taking warm a bath before you go to bed. Sleep in a comfortable bed, and make sure your room is cool and dark.

Getting enough rest is crucial for your mental and physical health, so always try to follow a healthy sleep schedule.

Learn more about scientific findings on how various factors affect sleep quality at

Sources include:

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