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UCLA Research suggests warmer climates can disrupt sleep and increase susceptibility to infectious diseases

Man sitting in bed in front of a fan

As global warming continues to worsen, many people are losing sleep due to discomfort caused by excess heat. However, new research led by Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, suggests that lack of sleep may not be the only problem our bodies are facing due to climate change.  

Irwin discussed that in multiple studies, high ambient temperatures have been associated with poor sleep, However, Irwin wrote in a recently published research review that evidence shows poor sleep is associated with a heightened risk of infectious disease and could make some vaccinations less effective. 

“No one has previously put together this notion that the ongoing climate crisis is contributing to sleep disturbance and that it’s possibly contributing to the altered risk of infectious disease we’re seeing,” said Irwin, the director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. The highlights of the review include evidence that there is a strong association between thermoregulation and sleep. In addition, disrupted sleep contributes to increases in inflammation and dampens the body’s ability to fight off infections. The review claims sleep duration is also associated with infectious disease risk outcomes. 

Irwin commented that since extreme heat is typically more severe in underprivileged communities, this phenomenon might significantly affect minorities. “Just like the pandemic is impacting socioeconomically disadvantaged and ethnic groups disproportionately with more morbid outcomes, it might be that the increase in ambient temperature we’re seeing are further exaggerating those risk profiles.” 

Read more about these findings at UCLA Newsroom

Study Authors:  

Michael Irwin, UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology 

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