Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Climate change can alter sleep, increase susceptibility to disease: study

“Just like the pandemic is impacting socioeconomically disadvantaged and ethnic groups disproportionately with more morbid outcomes, it might be that increases in ambient temperature we’re seeing are further exaggerating those risk profiles.”
Temperature displayed on outdoor screen.
iStock.

Story at a glance


  • There’s no doubt that quality regular sleep is good for health.

  • But with rising temperatures, sleep disturbances may become more common, especially for those who may not be able to afford air conditioning.

  • A new review explores the implications of a changing climate on sleep-related immune outcomes. 

Coming on the heels of new research that suggests warmer nights could lead to a 60 percent increase in global mortality, a new review published in the journal Temperature outlines how climate change can impact sleep patterns, making humans more vulnerable to infectious diseases. 

Previous studies have shown changes in people’s thermoregulation and ambient temperature increases can disrupt sleep, wrote author Michael R. Irwin, professor of psychiatry and biobehavorial sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles: “By priming the innate immune response, sleep prepares the body for injury or infection which might occur the following day.”

Disrupted sleep can lead to increased inflammatory markers and interfere with immune system balance. 

“Under these conditions, sleep disturbance has additional potent effects to decrease adaptive immune response, impair vaccine responses, and increase vulnerability to infectious disease,” Irwin wrote. 


America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


The association points to questions surrounding timely events as the world continues to suffer the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and in light of a recent global health emergency declared for monkeypox. For the first time in years, evidence of rising polio cases has also been detected. 

This summer, the United States has already experienced record-breaking heat and projections estimate that by the middle of the century, more than 100 million Americans will face extreme temperatures.

Implications of poor sleep resulting from higher temperatures could also take a disproportionate toll on underserved populations who may not have access to air conditioning and are at an increased risk of heat-related adverse health effects. 

A survey of 765,000 individuals included in the review showed increased nighttime temperatures exacerbated rates of self-reported poor sleep— a finding that was particularly strong among the elderly and lower-income communities.

Data assessed also revealed the eldery and those with existing inflammatory disorders might be at an increased risk of heat-related poor sleep outcomes. Some of these populations, like individuals with cardiovascular disease or depression are also at a heightened risk of insomnia. 

In one study, those who were partially deprived of sleep for four nights showed a 50 percent reduction in antibody amounts from a flu vaccine compared with those who got normal sleep. 

Further infectious disease models have proved longer sleep duration can decrease bacterial load and improve survival. 

More research should investigate these and any additional effects of warming temperatures on sleep patterns and resulting immune function, Irwin said. 

“Just like the pandemic is impacting socioeconomically disadvantaged and ethnic groups disproportionately with more morbid outcomes, it might be that increases in ambient temperature we’re seeing are further exaggerating those risk profiles.”