Defend Yourself with a Good Night’s Sleep

by Kristin Thorson, Fibromyalgia Network Editor
Posted: December 30, 2008

Persistent pain and disturbed sleep create a tremendous stress on the body that could potentially drag down a person’s immune system. Given that people with fibromyalgia battle sleep disruption, pain and a number of other stressful symptoms, you may be wondering what impact this is having on your immune system. In fact, this was a question asked by Ines Kaufmann, M.D., and co-workers in Munich, Germany.1

Comparing 22 fibromyalgia patients with 22 age- and gender-matched healthy control subjects, Kaufmann found a significant reduction in two immune system markers. The markers in question, CD62L and CD11b/CD18, are called adhesion molecules because they stick to the surface of the white blood cells that circulate as part of the immune system. These adhesion molecules work as communication “flags” in the immune system to get white blood cells to travel to places in the body where they need them, such as tissue injury sites. They also are involved in recognizing and destroying infectious organisms, as well as removing toxic substances and debris from the body.

A reduced number of adhesion molecules on the surface of your white blood cells would likely lead to a compromised immune system, one that lags in its ability to get rid of infections and clear up inflammation in the tissues. As a consequence, you may have a more difficult time getting over colds or flu-bugs that commonly occur during the winter months. So if you find yourself trapped with a head-cold, flu, or other infection that lingers on and on, try increasing your sleep time to help power up your immune system.

Besides lowering your ability to fend off infections, a decline in adhesion molecules on your white blood cells may also compound your painful symptoms. These molecules also play a role in triggering your white blood cells to release powerful opioid-like pain relievers in the muscles and other tissues where local injury may easily occur.

While the reduction in adhesion molecules may explain why you have trouble getting rid of infections and why the slightest injury produces more pain than it should for you, these defects in immune function cannot use these immunological findings to identify people specifically with fibromyalgia. Kaufmann’s team has reported similar findings in people with complex regional pain syndrome.2 This means that additional studies are needed to determine the relationship between the immune system changes and the development and persistence of painful conditions. For now, your best defense is a good night’s sleep, and anything else you can do to minimize the stress of your chronic illness.

  1. Kaufmann I, et al. Rheumatol Int [epub ahead of print] December 4, 2008.
  2. Kaufmann I, et al. Clin Immunol 125:103-111, 2007.

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